Not just anyone would be willing to run 50 miles, much less 50 miles up the side of a mountain. But, Sam Franklin, a community caregiver and new father, has decided to do just that. With the help of Project Purple’s Pioneer Program, Franklin is working to spread awareness for pancreatic cancer in a way that works for him. He will be representing Project Purple at the Run the Rock Ultra 50 Miler in November to help make a difference in the fight against pancreatic cancer.
Fatherhood and Facing Pancreatic Cancer
Sam Franklin never really knew his dad. He was only five when he lost his father to pancreatic cancer. What he does remember of his father is a mixture of blurry memories and stories told by family members. Growing up without the helping hand of a father inspired Franklin to help others. Today, Franklin is a father himself and has dedicated his life to helping others through his role as a community caregiver who helps respond to 9-1-1 calls and volunteers at his local firehouse.
Franklin’s “why” stretches across decades. It began with the half-remembered shadow of his father, a man who passed away in May of 1999, just after Franklin’s fifth birthday. Franklin grew up knowing the word ‘cancer’ but never fully understood its magnitude until much later.
“As I grew older, I got a bigger grasp of what happened to my dad and the type of cancer he had and how aggressive it was,” said Franklin. “Growing up I knew a couple of people who had overcome breast cancer and it was like, ‘woah that’s awesome,’ but there was always this little frustration of ‘well they beat cancer, why didn’t my dad beat cancer,’ when in reality it’s not the same.”
This new knowledge made Franklin feel like he had to do something, but he felt removed from the pancreatic cancer community. And, without knowing how best to support the cause, this dream of giving back lay dormant.
“I always wanted to do something for pancreatic cancer and awareness but, I didn’t really know what or how to do it, so I kinda just kept it to myself because you tell people, ‘Oh I lost my dad when I was young,’ and they’re immediately like, ‘I’m so sorry!’ and it’s like, ‘Well I’m almost thirty now, it was 25 years ago, so I appreciate it but it’s something I have learned to live with and cope with. I believe it has made me into who I am today.”
It wasn’t until pancreatic cancer came back into his life that Franklin’s philanthropic thoughts found a new direction. Franklin’s fire department has a volunteer chaplain, a man whose job it is to comfort the families when first responders arrive, and is called specifically for highly intense situations. Through their work together, Franklin grew close to the chaplain and admired him for his empathy and care.
“This gentleman is in his mid-80s and is such a great guy and his wife just passed away a couple of months ago from pancreatic cancer,” Franklin explained. “She was battling for about a year. And the chaplain position isn’t paid, it’s all volunteer, so this man is not only spending any moment he can with his wife, but in the off time that he does have, he is helping other families through pain and sadness. So when his wife ended up passing away in May, I wanted to support him in some way, especially because I had a connection to pancreatic cancer. I told him that my dad had it and he ended up passing from it, so I can only imagine what you’re going through.”
Seeing his co-worker’s suffering pushed Franklin to find new meaning in running. He decided he would run to help directly support the chaplain. However, when he brought this idea to his co-worker, the man simply asked that he instead try to fundraise for a charity to help others instead of himself.
“That kind of launched everything. I had already signed up for my race and I was trying to run and being a new dad trying to figure out running and working and parenting, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is exhausting.’ I knew I needed something a little more than trying to run thirty miles just because.”
Now, Franklin is taking on Run the Rock, not just for himself, but for others who have been impacted by the disease.
Finding a Rhythm with Running
Franklin has always been an athlete. He has been a personal trainer and participated in several hikes, bike trips, and runs. After trying his hand at so many physical activities, Franklin was looking for something more intense to challenge himself with.
“After I did the Chicago marathon I really fell in love with running,” said Franklin when asked why he wanted to participate in the fifty-miler. “For me, I always want to challenge myself and just kinda push my limitations and what I can do. So I asked myself, ‘Well, what’s after a marathon?”
Franklin has learned a lot from running. He believes that the most important lesson he has learned is that starting is the hardest part of any run.
“Running has really shown me over the years that I am capable of things that I never thought I could be,” said Franklin. “ And I want to make sure that I pass that on to my daughter and let them know that ‘hey, you know, you may feel you can’t do it, but at the end of the day, you just have to get over that initial hump.”
Now that Franklin has gotten his feet under him, he wants to turn running into a way for him to engage with the public and spread awareness for pancreatic cancer.
“As of recently, I figured I’d use this run to spread awareness,” Franklin said. “I noticed, everyone I passed would see me running and ask ‘What are you training for?’ and I’d say ‘I’m doing a fifty-mile race’ and they’d go, ‘…why?’ I could tell they were intrigued because not many people are like, ‘hey let’s go run thirty to fifty miles,’ so that’s where I figured I could use this platform to raise awareness because already you have something that is kind of ridiculous.”
Franklin chose to run with Project Purple specifically for their focus on helping families through the Patient Financial Aid (PFA) program, which works to help lend support to families battling pancreatic cancer.
“For me, it wasn’t only the transparency with Project Purple but the big push on aiding families,” said Franklin. “For me, we had our church [when my dad was sick] but if we didn’t have them, we would have had very little support because we didn’t come from a wealthy family or anything like that. But through our church and family friends, we had some support. And I think that was the biggest thing I was looking at in charities.”
Franklin hopes that this run will not only spread awareness, but show his support for fellow caregivers, loved ones, and patients who are battling this disease.
Taking on the Rock
Many people who run with Project Purple are avid runners, but very few choose to scale a mountain. In Franklin’s opinion, the key to completing such a physically taxing feat is simple; just do it.
“I think running is universal, anyone can do it, and all you really have to do is start walking and put one foot in front of the other,” said Franklin. “And it’s challenging once you kinda push yourself. I feel a lot of people feel they have to be a good runner or a fast runner, because that’s how I felt, I felt like ‘well if I’m going to run, I need to be able to run five, six-minute miles,’ when in reality it’s like ‘no, run at your own pace.’ And that’s the beauty of it, you can run a twelve-minute mile, you can run a five-minute mile. The biggest thing is just being out there and doing it.”
Franklin will participate in Run the Rock in the fall. His journey is similar to many other athletes that work with Project Purple. Anyone who wants to participate in a fitness challenge can do so with the help of Project Purple’s Pioneer Program. This program allows athletes to make a difference with Project Purple, while also giving them the flexibility to participate in any competition they choose. For example, those who want to run a local road race and fundraise for Project Purple can do so.
The Pioneer Program not only provides athletes with more flexibility, but also does not require the same prerequisites that other athletes have when they sign up for a sponsored race like a marathon. A marathoner may have to raise a higher sum to qualify for the Project Purple team. But, with this program, each event requires a $350 minimum, but beyond that, the athlete is free to raise as much or as little as they choose, and their fundraising is not a condition of their participation in the event.
In addition, the Pioneer Program also provides athletes will all the same support they would receive from Project Purple as they would for participating in a sponsored event. Athletes receive a singlet and gear when they meet their fundraising minimum and they have the option to participate in frequent check-ins with our athletic staff to make sure they are supported and ready to run!
If you would like to support Franklin in his run, please click here to donate. For more information on Project Purple’s Pioneer Program, click here. To Sam Franklin, we wish you luck as you run the rock!