Alex’s Million Mile is held every September to raise awareness about childhood cancer and to raise critical funds for childhood cancer research. There are thousands of participants—all around the world—and among the most dedicated are our childhood cancer hero families. Shannon and Jake Leonard, parents to Caleb, Xavier and Asher, log their miles in Kellyville, Australia, a Sydney suburb--a place that feels a million miles away from their hometown in Kansas.
Their youngest son, Asher, was diagnosed with ependymoma, a tumor of the brain and spine, in October 2011 when he was just 2 years old. Asher passed away, at the age of 4 1/2 in July 2013.
That year was also the start of Alex’s Million Mile and what would become the start of a family tradition for the Leonards and a new way forward in the fight against childhood cancer. Here is Shannon’s Alex’s Million Mile story:
The inaugural year for Alex’s Million Mile, September 2013, was just two months after Asher died. We were all reeling. The kids were back to school. Jake was back to work. I was left in the house, alone, with what felt like no purpose. I left my job the day Asher was diagnosed in October 2011, and had spent every day since taking care of him, researching treatments and doing everything in my power to give him happy, meaningful days.
Participating in Alex's Million Mile that first year gave me a sense of purpose. I got up every day, put on my gym clothes and running shoes and hit the pavement. With every step I thought about Asher. I thought about all the years he'd miss living on this earth; all the steps he'd never run or walk; and all the firsts he'd miss. I pushed myself every day to run a little further, a little faster, because Asher couldn't.
Our family joins Alex’s Million Mile each year for the same reasons, but I can say that every step I run and walk, doesn't carry the same weight it did 3 years ago. I smile and even laugh when I run; thinking about Asher and all the wonderfully funny, amazing and compassionate things he did. In his 4 1/2 years , Asher taught us how to live in the face of adversity. He never complained. He never asked why he had to go through such hell. He was a happy little boy, who loved knock-knock jokes, cooking, Star Wars, playing outside and his big bothers. He was always concerned about others and even on the hardest, darkest days, he was always asking how everyone else was doing, making sure we were all ok.
Our family will always continue to do what we can—whether that be bringing awareness, seeking donations or gathering support—to ensure that someday, no family has to watch their child and sibling suffer at the hands of cancer. We know that our hearts and Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation’s mission align. We will continue to support all of their efforts to further research and support families.
We moved to Australia in July 2016. To have this amazing experience of living in another country, experiencing a whole new part of the world and giving our boys the opportunity of a lifetime, was an easy decision. Our boys have such a deep appreciation for life, having lived through the death of their brother. In discussing the move with the boys, it was Caleb who looked at us one day and said "Mom, this is an easy decision. We've had to make the hardest, most awful decisions with Asher, and THIS is not a hard decision.”
The majority of our team members are from Kansas and Ohio, our "homes." Asher's Stormtroopers began within weeks of Asher's diagnosis, as my sisters wanted to make t-shirts to support Asher and our family. Our boys suggested the color yellow, like Asher's blanket, that was always in his hand, a pale yellow color, was named "yellow." Asher loved everything Star Wars, due to his brothers’ love of Star Wars, and the name and design was born. We've stuck with the shirts and team name, as we carry on in honor and memory of Asher.
You can read more about Asher’s story and Asher’s Stormtroopers here.