Leanne Stuck, ’15: Running to Inspire Hope in Others
March 19, 2015 by Lisa McMahon, MA'09
During the summer before her last semester of college, Leanne Stuck, ’15, did something extraordinary. She ran from San Francisco to Baltimore over 42 days in June and July.
She was one of 26 individuals between the ages of 18 and 25 selected to participate in the 4K for Cancer Run Across America, an Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults program that raises money and offers hope, inspiration, and support to communities affected by cancer along the 4,000-mile journey. It was only the second year of the run.
Encouraged by Vincent Schiano, ’13, who had cycled across the country the year before as part of the Ulman team, Leanne applied for the run.
“It’s an incredible cause,” Leanne says. “I knew that cancer had touched so many people and I wanted to run for those who couldn’t run themselves.”
To prepare for her cross-country trek, Leanne used the Niagara University campus and the nearby gorge as her training grounds, alternating between distance runs and sprint training. She had been a cross-country runner in high school and competed several half marathons while at NU, but she knew this run would be the most challenging she had ever undertaken.
“I ran every day,” she says. “My main focus was that I knew how many people I’d be helping when I did this, and I wanted to make it across (the country). I knew that a 4,000-mile run was not going to be easy, so every day I was training to make myself stronger so that the run wouldn’t be as difficult.”
Through a Facebook page created by the UCF, Leanne got to know the 25 other runners on her team. On June 14, 2014, she met them in person when she arrived in San Francisco, ready for the first leg of her journey.
“I was terrified,” she admits. “But I knew it was going to be a life-changing experience, so I think that was the best motivation for me, to take that first step.”
Over the course of six weeks, Leanne and her team ran relay-style from the Golden Gate Bridge to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, logging between six and 10 miles per day. Along the way, they stayed in churches, gyms, and fire halls, meeting cancer patients and taking part in service activities in support of the host communities. One patient in particular, a three-year-old girl with lymphoma, touched Leanne’s heart. She was able to include the time she spent with the child in a documentary of her trek that she was filming for one of her NU communications courses.
“The little girl had been in and out of the hospital for two years, and she was going through chemo,” Leanne explains, “but she was the cutest little angel, and all of us spent the whole evening playing with her. I got to talk to her in my documentary and that was a really, really great moment because I have how I felt in that moment on camera and I’ll always remember it.”
Leanne was also moved by the support the runners received. “All we had was one backpack (each), our running shoes, and each other. People gave us food, they gave us shelter, they gave us water, and they gave us their donations. Every single day, we saw somebody who was trying to do something to help us and make sure that we were comfortable and that we were making it safely to our destination. It was just incredible to see that.”
On July 26, Leanne and the team arrived in Baltimore. “It was the best day of my life,” she says. “I’ve never been so happy! I had my whole family there; they were all waiting with huge signs. We finished in the Baltimore Harbor and there was a ceremony for us. It was perfect.”
Today, Leanne is a general assignment news reporter at WJET 24 in Erie, Pa. She cherishes the lifelong friends and lasting memories she made last summer, but admits that she likely will not have another cross-country odyssey quite like that.
“I wish I could do it again, because I made so many memories and met so many great people,” she says, “but that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me.”