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Nashville Dad Honors Daughter, Raises Awareness Through Running

Dean Ives, left, poses for a photo with friends after a race

When Sydney Ives was 9 years old, she was diagnosed with anaplastic astrocytoma, a rare, inoperable brain tumor. Within a week of her diagnosis, the Ives family was in Memphis, Tennessee, where Sydney would receive treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

The family stayed in an apartment at Target House for St. Jude, which provides free lodging to families of children receiving long-term treatment. Sydney's dad, Dean, had always enjoyed lifting weights, so he made use of the facility’s gym in the morning hours to prepare himself mentally for the day ahead.

Then one day he just started running.

“There’s something about realizing that your daughter has little time on this earth … so I just took off,” Ives says. “I started running around the block. I made it around the block and came back.”

From that point on, Dean Ives was a runner.

After three months of treatment, Sydney was ready to leave St. Jude. The family returned to their Illinois home determined to establish a new normal. For Dean Ives, that meant continuing his commitment to running.

“I got back into work and kept running. I started meeting a guy on Sunday mornings. It was part of my routine,” Ives says. “I had to run to cope.”

Sydney died on November 7, 2009. It was a heartbreaking time for the family and their community, but it also represented a victory. The doctors in Wisconsin had given Sydney a prognosis of only a few months. Instead, she courageously fought her disease for 18 months.

Dean Ives poses for a photo with a medal after a race

Meant to Be In Tennessee

In the months that followed, Ives and his wife, Tasha, determined they weren’t in a place they wanted to be. The two held opposite work schedules, which meant the family spent little time together.

“We were really hoping for something different in our future. We wanted to raise our son and be as normal as possible,” Dean Ives says.

Tennessee beckoned. The family had relatives in Nashville—including a nephew with whom their son, Carson, was close—and they had become active volunteers with St. Jude.

“My wife and I are on the Quality of Life Steering Council, are Bereaved Parent Educators and sit on the Day of Remembrance Committee. They were flying us back and forth. At one point we were like, ‘Let’s just move to Nashville and get closer to Memphis,’” Ives says.

“We’re Ivestrong!”

When Ives decided to train for his first marathon, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Weekend was an obvious choice because it raises funds and awareness for St. Jude. This was his opportunity to show gratitude to the clinicians who cared for his daughter, and to show support to other families going through tough times.

Ives’ commitment to running the marathon also created an opportunity for family and friends to contribute to the cause. Tasha immediately got involved in the fundraising aspect, organizing a website to invite donations.

A group of supporters named itself Team Ivestrong, a joke Sydney had come up with using her Livestrong Foundation bracelet.

“She’d cover up the L and say, ‘We’re Ivestrong,'" Ives says.

The race itself exemplified themes of community and support.

“One of the things St. Jude does now in all the races is they have arm bands for bereaved families and patient families. It’s purple for bereaved families, gold for patient families. That way you can recognize one another,” Ives says. “If you run next to another runner with a purple band, you do a fist bump to show solidarity.”

Dean says being among other runners who were there for the same reason helped drive him, even when the course got tough.

“I remember the struggle of hitting the 18-mile mark. My heart rate got high, and I had to slow down, but I had people I didn’t know who were like, ‘C’mon, you can do this,’” he says.

And then there was the thought of Sydney.

“Sydney was fighting cancer. These kids are fighting cancer. They’re fighting for their lives. I can push and go farther and farther,” Ives says.

'It’s About Community'

It was happenstance that brought Ives to Fleet Feet. He was sitting in an airport when he saw a sign advertising that his local store was looking for help.

“I thought it would be a fun side job,” Ives says.

After getting to know both the company he worked for and the community it served, he approached his managers to see if Fleet Feet would officially sponsor St. Jude through its race events.

ALSAC, the fundraising arm of St. Jude, caught wind of this, and they asked me to help coach the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in Nashville. I said, ‘I have no idea what you mean by coaching, but I’m a great cheerleader.’ So, I jumped in and took that role,” Ives says.

Meanwhile back at the store, Ives says runners who have heard his story have started fundraising campaigns of their own to benefit St. Jude’s. He’s touched when they tell him they’re running for Sydney.

“I tell them, ‘By raising money, you’ve helped my family. My daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Because of donations, she lived 18 months. I’m forever grateful for those 18 months,’” Ives says.

Ives also is grateful for the perspective—and, later, the platform—running has given him. Now a Retail Experience Manager and running coach for his store’s training programs, he motivates runners of all backgrounds to use their strength to overcome challenges on and off the trail.

“It’s not always a kid with cancer; everyone’s got trouble. If I can help escape that with a run and bring some joy, that’s success in my book,” Ives says.

By Caroline Dohack. Caroline is a Missouri-based writer and editor. Although she will never break the sound barrier – much less a race record – Caroline loves the opportunities running affords her to meet new people and explore new places.

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