3,340 Walkers/Runners and 100 Stories of Love, Determination, Faith and Hope

People gather at charity rally

Members of Team Rally for Renie. With more than 300 participants, it was the largest team in the history of Walk Ahead for a Brain Tumor Cure. Photos by Joe Simon and Cindy Starr.

It is billed as a 5k walk/run, but it is really a story. Make that a hundred stories. Walk Ahead for a Brain Tumor Cure tells the stories of love and loss, of family and friends, of determination, strength and hope. And it tells the story of faith in future cures for others who will face the diagnosis of a brain tumor.

At the seventh annual Walk Ahead last Sunday, 3,340 participants, including 151 teams, raised more than $300,000 for research and education at the Brain Tumor Center at the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute and UC Cancer Institute.

There was Rally for Renie, a group of more than 300 individuals who made up the largest team – by a factor of two – in the history of Walk Ahead. When you are a nurse who is always the one to help; when you raise six children on the West Side of Cincinnati; when your husband is a beloved dentist; and when you’re stricken with a brain tumor that you never deserved, friends rally to your side.

There was the Mount St. Joseph (MSJ) Women’s Basketball Team. And the MSJ Volleyball Team, volunteering in memory of their late friend and teammate, Lauren Hill, who passed away in 2015 after a brave battle with the malignant tumor DIPG. “This is our own small way to give back,” said Hannah Losey, senior captain of the volleyball team.

The women shared their team chant – “Play for 22, pray for 22!” – with Richard Chiles, reporter for WLWT News 5.

Richard Chiles of WLWT News 5 with the Mount St. Joseph women’s volleyball team.

There was Collin June – survivor – and his bride, Rachel June, MD, just back from their honeymoon in Greece the night before. And there was Leslie Sommer – survivor – and her husband of four months, Roland. Walk Ahead feted the newlyweds with a cake while sharing the heart of their story: yes, it is possible to survive a brain tumor and still live happily ever after.

Today, Collin is a patient relations supervisor at the UC Medical Center. Leslie, a former soccer star who first did the Walk Ahead with her teammates at Wittenberg University, is now a schoolteacher and Wittenberg’s assistant women’s soccer coach.

People pose with cake

From left: Collin June, Rachel June, MD, Leslie Sommer and Roland Sommer.

There was Team PawPaw Joe Rippe, captained by the late PawPaw Joe’s grandchildren. Joseph Rippe, Sr., a longtime Cincinnati businessman and co-founder of Rippe & Kingston, passed away from a brain tumor in 2014 at the age of 65.

“My dad was the ultimate people person,” said his daughter, Kate Rippe. “When we’d go out to dinner, it took us half an hour to get to the table. He knew everybody and had to talk to everybody. If you didn’t know him and he sat next to you, you were best friends. People flocked to him.”

Rippe was also “huge on giving back,” Kate Rippe said. He served on the board of the Dan Beard Council for the Boy Scouts of America, was a vice-chairman of Talbert House and a Xavier University trustee.

On Sunday Rippe’s grandchildren were walking in his honor. “This is a way for them to remember PawPaw,” Kate Rippe said. “This team is here to stay.”

“It is deeply moving to see so many people walking to support friends and family members and in memory of loved ones,” said Ronald Warnick, MD, director of the UC Brain Tumor Center and the John M. Tew, Jr., MD, Chair in Neurosurgical Oncology.

“They are also walking and running to support the very next patient who will be diagnosed with a brain tumor in the Cincinnati area. During the next 12 months, one in every 2,000 people in our region will be diagnosed with a brain tumor. These newly diagnosed patients need educational resources – including our symposium and webinars – access to innovative clinical trials, and the hope provided by new discoveries in the laboratory.”

woman poses for photo at charity walk

Billi Ewing, survivor and soul singer from Dayton, Ohio.

The seventh Walk Ahead was co-chaired by volunteers Rick June (the father of Collin) and Michael Perez. Gold sponsors were Anthem BlueCross BlueShield, the Shemenski Foundation and Team PawPaw Joe Rippe. Kyla Woods of WLWT News 5 served as emcee, and Billi Nicol Ewing, captain of Billi’s Believers, sang the national anthem.

“We are honored to have such great sponsors and passionate teams raising both awareness and funds to benefit current and future patients with this disease,” Rick June said. “We thank everyone who participated and has made Walk Ahead a special event in the tristate area!”

The top fundraising teams were Rally for Renie, Joe’s Team, Team Jolly and PawPaw Joe. Top individual fundraisers were Tara Kephart-Philhower, Asheley & Ean Siemer, Rick June and Craig Jolly. Awarded “most spirited” was Dr. Mike’s Mischief Makers, whose members cycled to the event, walked the 5k in their superman capes and then cycled home.

Money raised by Walk Ahead is held in the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute Brain Tumor Fund, which supports basic science research, infrastructure for a growing clinical trials program and educational symposia and webinars for patients. Donations to the walk can be made through the end of the year at www.walkahead.org.

The 8th annual event has been set for Oct. 22, 2017.


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