Racing for kids who can’t

Gunnar Nelson is one of Mitch's All-Stars

On Saturday, 1,200 kids ages 7 to 17 will test their athleticism and race for kids who can’t at the MiracleKids Triathlon at Lake Ann in Chanhassen, Minn.

It was just two weeks ago that friends and family of 9-year-old Gunnar Nelson, an oncology patient at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, toed the same line at Lake Nokomis in an effort to raise money for families of cancer patients. The races, two of the largest kids triathlons in the world, are organized by the Miracles of Mitch Foundation (MOMF), and Gunnar is one of “Mitch’s All-Stars.”

MOMF was formed by Steve and Becky Chepokas in memory of their son Mitch, and grew from a “pinky swear” between Mitch and his dad to continue helping kids going through cancer treatment. Mitch was 9 when he lost his battle with cancer.  MOMF provides financial and quality-of-life support to hundreds of families of children being treated for cancer in Minnesota.

Gunnar was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in March 2011. His diagnosis came after he woke up with intense hip pain, developed persistent fevers and experienced general achiness that worsened, said his mom, Kelly Nelson.

His brother, 11-year-old Ryley, and his cousin competed in the Lake Nokomis event and raised money in his honor, Nelson said.

“Seeing how ambitious some of the kids were to complete the event and raise large amounts of money shows me kids are really doing amazing things to help other kids,” Nelson said.

That’s what the MiracleKids Triathlon and the MOMF organization are all about. And it inspires us. We at Children’s are proud to be the annual medical partner for the Lake Nokomis event.

”The MiracleKids Triathlons, ‘kids racing for kids who can’t’, not only support children going through cancer treatment, but also promote healthy lifestyle choices for all children in the battle against obesity – a top priority of Children’s,” said Dr. Joanna Perkins, a physician in Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Clinic.

Since its beginning in 2004, the MOMF has served hundreds of children with cancer and their families, Perkins said.  Their financial grant enables families to make house payments, utility payments, and other expenses, when parents are unable to work due to their child’s illness. They also sponsor many quality-of-life programs, including our annual Mitch’s All-Star Camp.  Children’s partnership with MOMF is an integral piece of helping our kids with cancer and their families along their journey.

Gunnar is currently in the maintenance phase of cancer treatment, Nelson said. He’ll continue treatment through September 2013. He takes chemo nightly.

Of her family, she said, “We go through a lot, but there’s always someone who’s been through even more.”

Gunnar has been a champion from the start, she said. “We call him a warrior,” she said.

Thanks to MOMF, warriors like Gunnar and their siblings get to attend Mitch’s All-Star Camp at Camp Courage in Maple Lake, Minn. During the camp, medical professionals from Children’s provide medical care and lead educational programming for the kids.

“I am proud to be part of Children’s and because of Children’s connection with the Miracles of Mitch Foundation, our lives have been brightened in this dark journey,” Nelson said.

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