Similar to many other students, Isabelle Stern and Ashley Cooper are looking forward to summer break; however, theirs will be far from ordinary. The friends are in the process of training for a 49-day, 4,000-mile run from San Francisco to Baltimore with more than 20 other college-aged students.

The 4K for Cancer is a program with the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. The mission of this nonprofit organization is to create a “community of support for young adults and their loved ones as they fight cancer and embrace survivorship,” according to the Ulman Cancer Fund website.

Cooper and Stern were drawn to the idea of the run because each has family or friends who have battled cancer.

Cooper, a junior who is majoring in human nutrition, foods, and exercise, was scrolling through her Instagram feed last year when a post about a 4K run for cancer caught her eye. Initially, she thought it would be a brief, 4-kilometer run around Blacksburg. After further research, she discovered this was actually a 4,000-mile run. It was the perfect opportunity for her to incorporate her love for running with her passion to fight against cancer.

“As soon as I saw (the post), I was completely excited for it because I started scrolling and looking at all the cool stuff that the Ulman Cancer Fund does and the route we get to run,” Cooper said.

Several of Cooper’s neighbors in her hometown of Virginia Beach have been diagnosed with cancer — some have won, and some have lost their battles. She realized the immense impact that funding for cancer makes when her dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer. She credits the funding of these treatments to her dad beating cancer.

Stern, a senior civil engineering major, saw first-hand the effect that kidney cancer had on her dad’s best friend. He loved traveling and meeting new people, and she witnessed him going downhill.

Also, she said she recently found herself having a “quarter-life crisis,” with graduation being around the corner and not wanting to immediately enter the workforce.

A friend rode in Bike the U.S. for MS — a ride across the country that benefits multiple sclerosis research — with his fraternity, and Stern wanted to do something similar with running. She googled “running” and “cancer” and the Ulman Cancer Fund popped up.  

Cooper and Stern met after finding one another's Ulman Cancer Fund fundraising web pages. They have formed a strong bond.

Cooper and Stern pose in front of Torgersen Bridge

Cooper and Stern stand in front of Torgersen Bridge

“We met at the start of fall semester this school year,” Stern said. “On our fundraising pages, we each have a description about ourselves, and we noticed we both are students at Virginia Tech. She reached out to me in late August, so we could meet. It's been great having a teammate at school to support each other through fundraising, the bone marrow registry drive, and training.”

Cooper and Stern applied for the 4K program early last year and went through an interview process. They were accepted, and the official training started in January.

“We started off with 20-30 minute runs three times per week, and we had a lot of cross-training and rest days,” Stern said. “Now we’re up to four to eight miles per day for four days per week. Progressively, through April and May, it will get more intense. We will get up to 12 to 16 miles per day and have hour-long runs.”  

While they try to train together, it’s often difficult due to their schedules. Cooper teaches cycle classes at McComas Gym. She is also on the Virginia Tech triathlon team, and in addition to training for the coast-to-coast run, she is training for a triathlon in June. Stern is a member of the Virginia Tech club field hockey team.

In regards to lodging plans for the trip, they will be cold-calling YMCAs and churches with the hope of camping out on their floors. They will also provide many of their meals.

“There are seven leg leaders. I’m in charge of cities in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Our program coordinators who work at Ulman Cancer Fund plan the route, but we decide where we’re actually staying,” Stern said.

As the team makes its way to Baltimore,  they will participate in several service days where they will interact with cancer patients.

“We will donate scholarships to young adults affected by cancer, and we will deliver the chemo care bags to patients going through treatment,” Stern said.

Additionally, members of the team have reached out to companies for major food donations. Throughout the run, they will be taking pictures with their products.

“I imagine having a connection with corporate sponsors will help us spread our cause even further across the United States,” Stern said.

To date, Cooper and Stern have raised more than $10,000 combined for the Ulman Cancer Fund. Methods of fundraising have included posting on Facebook, holding yoga and boxing fundraisers, and creating art to sell.  

They are actively seeking donations. To donate, visit:

Ashley’s donation page:

https://ulman.z2systems.com/ashley-cooper

Isabelle’s donation page: https://ulman.z2systems.com/isabelle-stern

Written by Lindsey Grooms