On Oct. 20, Tina Mills and Wendy Lueckenhoff, of Cassville, will put on their running shoes and compete in the Waddell and Reed Kansas City Marathon, which benefits a cause that is close to both of their hearts.
Mills and Lueckenhoff have joined the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) Team in Training that will compete in the Kansas City marathon. As members of the team, each woman will raise $2,000 for LLS.
"These funds are going for a wonderful cause," said Mills. "When LLS receives a donation, 37.5 percent of the funds go to research, 37.1 percent go to patient services and 25.4 percent go to public health and professional education."
"I felt this would be a good way to give back to a cause that I believe in," said Lueckenhoff. "Cancer and leukemia never go away. There are many families out there still battling leukemia."
Lueckenhoff was personally affected by leukemia when her son, Jordan Bailey, was diagnosed with the disease when he was 3 years old.
"Even though Jordan has been cancer and chemo-free for nine years, there is always a piece of me that is coping," said Lueckenhoff. "There is always a new level of appreciation. Every milestone brings back a memory of his treatment. There were nights that I would hold him and not know if he would make it through to the next day. Today he is strong and healthy and a survivor."
Mills was also personally affected by the disease when one of her closest friends lost the battle with leukemia this year.
"Jamie (Wilbanks) was diagnosed with leukemia in the fall of 2005 at the age of 28," said Mills. "She suffered four relapses before they could get it into remission. Jamie had six wonderful months of remission before the leukemia came back."
This year, Wilbanks notified her doctor at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis that she was not feeling well. Her physician discovered that the leukemia was back and Wilbanks re-entered the hospital on April 24.
"By God's grace I got the chance to see her the next week," said Mills. "She looked good, she was strong and eating good.
"I really believed she would make it," said Mills. "I tried to be encouraging and talk about when she got out what we would do, and several times throughout the day she would stop me and say, 'But if I am not, it is okay.'"
Wilbanks passed away on May 15.
"I am running this marathon for Jamie," said Mills. "Jamie was always the one in our group of friends that would take a stand for the Lord. I want this marathon to be a praise to the Lord who through Him all things are possible."
Over the last few months, Mills and Lueckenhoff have been training for the 26.2-mile marathon through schedules that were issued by their Team in Training coach.
Mills runs between five and nine miles five days each week. Lueckenhoff also trains five days a week. She combines short runs with cross training exercises.
Each weekend, Mills and Lueckenhoff complete a long run together. This weekend, the women plan to complete a 21-mile run, which will keep them on their feet for over four hours. Both women train between eight and 10 hours each week.
"Eating the right way and making the time to train has been my greatest challenge," said Mills, who has completed numerous 5K, several 10K, one half marathon and two full marathons.
"It has been a challenge to juggle a consistent workout plan with family activities," said Lueckenhoff, who will complete her first marathon on Oct. 20.
In addition to training for the physical aspect of the marathon, the women have participated in several fundraisers to collect monies for LLS.
Mills raised around $300 and Lueckenhoff raised $700 during a bake sale that was held at the Cassville Wal-Mart Supercenter in July. Other funds have been collected through donations.
The women also participated in a 5K fundraising run with their Team in Training in Springfield and took part in Pack the Park, which broke a Guiness Book world record for the most people gathered in one location wearing Groucho Marx glasses.
Together, the women have collected over $3,000 for LLS. They will continue to raise funds for the organization until the marathon.
Donations can be made through Mills website, www.active.com/donate/tntmida/tntmidaTMi..., or mailed to Wendy Lueckenhoff, 50 Benton Lane, Cassville, Mo., 65625. Checks should be made payable to Leukemia Lymphoma Society.
"Wendy is doing this in celebration of life after cancer," said Mills. "I am doing this because I do not think Jamie was done telling her story."
"I hope we are able to bring about a new level of awareness about LLS Team in Training," said Lueckenhoff. "I want to help raise money that will be used to help families every day."