TAMPA — There are teenagers out there changing the world — in rather large, significant ways — for the better.
Dozens of them are cross country runners right here in the Tampa Bay area.
Two of them, Academy of the Holy Names alumnus Lizzie Dolan and AHN junior Greta Dieck, are leading the pack.
For proof look no farther than the road race Dolan created in 2015 and Dieck is directing this year — the Cross Out Cancer 5K — an event developed, organized and executed entirely by high school students.
Successful? You bet.
With the third race coming up Nov. 18 at Picnic Island Park, the students have raised about $175,000 to help families of cancer patients.
The motivation? Purely from the heart.
"We simply want to help people who need help," Dieck said. "We want to make a difference."
In the process, Dieck and Dolan say the experience has transformed them in ways they couldn’t have imagined before the idea was born in Dolan’s mind more than two years ago in Seattle.
It happened in the summer of 2015 before her junior year when Dolan worked as a counselor at Seattle’s Camp Agape, a week designed to help families who have children with cancer.
"That week changed my life," said Dolan, now a freshman at Yale University. "Those kids and their families taught me what true sacrifice and resilience is.
"I was working with a family that had to leave their jobs in Montana and move to Seattle to care for their child, who was fighting cancer. This family needed help. I came back to Tampa and I was so frustrated and disturbed and worried. One day I was in the shower and it hit me. I said to myself, ‘I’m going to do something. I’m going to help.’"
She decided to combine her love of running as a member of the AHN cross country team with her desire to help families struggling with cancer.
She went to work: Forming a nonprofit and a board of high school cross country runners from a dozen Tampa Bay area schools, assigning myriad duties to the board members, securing a race course at Picnic Island Park, canvassing the community for sponsors and landing some pretty big ones, including the Tampa Bay Lightning, Ryan Companies and EATS! American Grill, which is donating its space to host a fundraising dinner party Tuesday, Nov. 14.
Ultimately, the beneficiaries are the struggling families of pediatric cancer patients at All Children’s Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine with a particular focus on every day needs, such as paying for groceries, or utilities or helping making a mortgage payment.
"I saw how stressed the families were trying to figure out how they were going to pay for things," Dolan said. "It can be devastating."
Dieck, meantime, was running every day with Dolan and her AHN cross country teammates, all the while marveling at what Dolan had accomplished.
Then one day last spring before she graduated, Dolan, after much thought and consideration, asked Dieck if she would like take over the duties of running the Cross Out Cancer organization.
Dieck said the moment, "Kind of knocked the air out of me."
"I was so touched and honored that Lizzie asked me to take over something that I knew was so close to Lizzie’s heart, and meant so much to so many other people," Dieck said. "It was incredible."
Dieck, like Dolan, said the learning curve for the job is steep because there are hundreds of moving parts in holding such a race, held this year with about 600 participants.
"But I’ve loved doing it so much," Dieck said. "I’ve seen what a group of teenagers can do when they put their minds to something and that has been very inspiring.
"Now we want to keep this going forever."
Contact Scott Purks at [email protected]