In Loudoun Extra Nov. 7 ("A Stranger's Selfless Strides"), Mike Gurdak's finishing time in the Marine Corps Marathon was listed incorrectly. It was 3 hours, 58 minutes, 54 seconds. (Published 11/10/02)
Mike Gurdak was reading a newsletter from a landscaping company that had done work at his Vienna home when he learned that the 4-year-old daughter of the company's owner was suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, an incurable disease.
The 40-year-old lawyer, who has a son the same age, was moved by the plight of Ashlynn Rose Prins Crombie and wanted to do something to help the Aldie girl.
"I was struck by the unfairness of Ashlynn's situation," Gurdak said. "This was so terrible. I could imagine the helplessness parents must feel being unable to protect a child from this kind of harm."
Gurdak decided to raise money for leukemia research by running in the Marine Corps Marathon and soliciting sponsors. His original goal was to raise $10,000, but he more than tripled that and set a Marine Corps Marathon record for fundraising.
Ashlynn's mother, Lisbeth Prins, owner of the Plant-a-Plant Landscaping Co., said she was moved that a stranger would offer to aid her daughter and decided to help with the fundraising.
"When Mike called and told me he wanted to run in honor of Ashlynn, I was so touched," she said. "We both broke into tears."
Ashlynn's disease was diagnosed last November. Although there is no known cure, remission is possible, and Ashlynn is in the second phase of a three-part, 2 1/2-year treatment at Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children that involves many types of chemotherapy, frequent blood transfusions and spinal taps.
The disease and its treatment weaken her immune system, and because she must be isolated at times to avoid infection, she can't fully participate in activities that most 4-year-olds enjoy, such as visiting friends regularly, attending preschool or even gardening with her mom. Much of her life revolves around her treatments.
She has a few close friends at the hospital, including 6-year-old Reality Nolen of Dumfries, who is being treated for cancer that metastasized from a Wilm's tumor, a cancerous growth on the kidney, and requires constant hospitalization.
Her activities are also extremely restricted, although she was able to go to Disney World last month and attend her first day of kindergarten. Gurdak included her name, along with Ashlynn's, on his marathon jersey.
Gurdak contacted Team in Training, an organization that is based in Keego Harbor, Mich., and offers endurance sports training programs to help individuals and corporations raise money for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
It provides athletic coaching, training and fundraising tips. It can also put athletes in touch with an "honored teammate," someone with a blood-related cancer, although Gurdak had already found Ashlynn, and through her, friends such as Reality.
Gurdak's original goal was $10,000, but when he contacted co-workers at the law firm Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue and when Prins contacted her Plant-a-Plant Landscaping clients, they gave generously. Donations grew so rapidly in August and September that the goal was raised to $20,000.
When it looked as if they would meet this well before the Oct. 27 race, Gurdak raised the goal to $26,200 -- $1,000 per marathon mile. Just before the race, he held a one-night fundraiser at Kelly's Irish Times, a pub in Washington not far from the firm's office. Through a cover charge and donations, they collected about $2,000, pushing them well over the target.
Because of her taxed immune system, Ashlynn couldn't attend the marathon, but she watched portions with family and friends on TV. With her mother, she also tracked Gurdak's progress online. He finished in 3 minutes 58 seconds.
Gurdak's fundraising efforts for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society continue and have surpassed $30,000.
"Mike's was a record for marathon fundraising," said Karen Headley of the society. "The average amount marathoners usually collect is somewhere between $2,000 and $2,400."
To donate, call 800-955-4572 or contact The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society at www.leukemia.org or Team in Training at www.teamintraining.org.
Growing Hope, a new independent support group at Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children, provides financial support for families of children with cancer and offers Fun Days, such as pizza parties or amusement park trips. To donate or for information, call 703-239-9540 or write to Growing Hope, Box 151, Fairfax Station, Va. 22039-0151.