In many ways, Micah Jensen is your typical 12-year-old sixth grade boy. His favorite classes are math and PE. He enjoys playing sports, such as golf and football. But Micah is preparing to do something that not many kids his age can even fathom. Micah is training to run 13.1 miles at the Lincoln Half-Marathon. He has now run as far as 8 miles in training, a distance that most 12-year-olds think is crazy, if not impossible. In fact, when Micah goes to school and tells his classmates about his training runs, they sometimes don’t believe him. Some classmates have even asked his brother if he is telling the truth about his feats of endurance. But, it is all true. Micah has been training hard to complete his goal. He is part of a team of 100+ runners who will be running with Project Purple, which is the official charity partner for the Lincoln Marathon He will be running the race with his mother, Elli Zadina. Micah is a remarkable young man who is running with a purpose: he wants to help make a difference in the world of pancreatic cancer. The illness is personal for Micah and his family. How Micah came to learn about pancreatic cancer is a story that is equal parts astonishing and heart-breaking.
Micah has always had a close relationship with his grandparents, Sharon and Gary Erickson. Sharon was a very involved grandmother who cared for Elli’s three sons often. Micah describes his grandmother as a woman with a wonderful sense of humor who enjoyed cooking for her family. Sharon and Gary taught Micah to golf, a sport that he loves to this day. Elli remembers her mom as being a young, healthy, active and beautiful woman who doted on her grandkids. Elli considered her mom to be her best friend. Their worlds were forever changed on November 1, 2012, when Sharon learned that she had stage IV pancreatic cancer. Despite the bleak diagnosis, Sharon was committed to fighting and thought she would beat her illness. The chemotherapy regimen she was administered was brutal, however, and in a matter of six weeks it had physically battered Sharon. She experienced every side effect in the books: nausea, weight loss, diarrhea, dizziness and hair loss, among others. Within three months, she looked like she had aged decades. Elli was devastated to watch her once-vibrant mother’s decline. Sharon grew physically weaker and fell. She had to use a walker, then moved to a wheelchair, and finally to a hospice bed. Still, she never lost her positive spirit. She kept a gratitude journal and wrote in it every day. Sharon survived her cancer only six months, passing away on April 6th, 2013.
After losing her mom to pancreatic cancer, Elli was inspired to run with Project Purple. Now a board member for the charity, she reflects back to the first time she ran with the Project Purple team. “My dad was there cheering for me and it was so emotional. At the team dinner, I felt like I was ‘at home’. The other runners helped me deal with my grief. I wanted to bring Project Purple to Nebraska, because there are people here who are dealing with this hopeless disease.” Elli did just that, and now Project Purple is the official charity for the Lincoln Marathon. Each year the team has grown by leaps and bounds, turning the city purple on race day.
Micah has previously served as support crew for his mom on her journey to defeat pancreatic cancer, but events of the past year have inspired him to want to pick up the fight, too. In a completely senseless turn of events, Gary Erickson, Sharon’s husband, was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer in August, 2015. Micah was shocked when he heard the news. “I was very surprised,” Micah recalls, wondering, “Why the same cancer? Why is it pancreatic cancer again?”
After watching his wife battle against pancreatic cancer, Gary debated whether he was willing to undergo chemotherapy or not. He ultimately decided upon a different protocol than what Sharon had received. In the seven months of his treatment, his tumors have shrunk about 20%. Elli knows that there is no cure for her father’s cancer, but she is grateful that his side effects have not been as severe as what her mom endured.
Inspired by his grandparents’ battles, Micah approached his mom about running the Lincoln Half-Marathon for Project Purple this year. Initially, Elli wondered if she would be emotionally able to run the half-marathon. She was reeling from the shock of her father’s diagnosis on the heels of her mother’s passing. When she saw how much it meant to Micah, however, she knew she would have to join him for the race.
Though Micah had never previously been a runner, watching his mom run and fundraise for Project Purple showed him that he could help to change the world through running. He chose to challenge himself and honor his grandparents in the process. Micah often trains with his mom and the two enjoy the time they spend together while logging their training miles. He says, “It is a lot more fun than running by myself because she pushes me. She helps me set the pace so I know how fast I am going and she tells me how to eat healthy. We like to joke around together while we are running. My mom always says that running is better than chemo.” Elli always hoped that one of her children would take up running some day and she is thrilled for the time she gets to spend with her son while they train together. Micah’s excitement and enthusiasm also motivates Elli to get out the door. Every long run is a new milestone for Micah and it is fun to share in the joy of hitting new PRs and goals together.
Gary has been deeply touched by the fact that his 12-year-old grandson is pounding the pavement several days each week on his behalf. Elli and Micah are hoping that Gary will be well enough to attend the marathon finish with the rest of the extended family. Elli and Micah are running for Gary because they want him to know how deeply they love him. Elli says, “I wanted my dad to feel the love and support and to know that I will keep fighting. I want him to know that I will never give up.” As Micah continues to ramp up his mileage and fundraising for the big race, he says, “When I struggle with motivation, I think about grandma and grandpa.”
Though Micah’s family has now had to face the demon that is pancreatic cancer twice, they continue to fight on and inspire others in the process. Elli has brought a countless number of runners into the Project Purple family. Now Micah is inspiring young and old and is challenging people to reconsider what they think is possible. Elli and Micah will join together with over 100 other teammates this year in Lincoln, Nebraska. As one of the youngest-ever members of the Project Purple team, Micah is taking on an incredible challenge all in the name of love.
Please make a tax-deductible donation to Micah and Elli’s Project Purple fundraiser at the following link: