Katie’s Run returns for eighth year despite heavy heart
By Darren Lum
Named for Katie Woudstra, Katie’s Run has been at the forefront of raising awareness for epilepsy and fundraising for epilepsy research in this province, raising $250,000 in eight years.
Every year the event has a theme. This year’s theme is loss.
Woudstra’s mother Geri said Katie chose the theme following the death of the “love of her life” Levi VandenBrink, who died in a plane crash last summer. He was 23.
“Even in the realm of epilepsy there’s a lot of loss. Loss of freedom. Loss of independence. Loss of jobs. Loss of friends. Katie’s lost all her friends ... we’re encouraging people to share about that topic,” she said. “When [people] talk about epilepsy, living with epilepsy so they are feeling not alone ... I think that breeds hope too. That’s why she chose loss this year. Just to get people talking and sharing.”
Past themes were the moms of epilepsy, and sudden unexplained death in epilepsy.
People living with epilepsy don’t always talk about it and the brain disorder is often misunderstood.
“Getting people to talk is huge,” Woudstra said.
Organizers expect upwards of 300 participants for the event in Haliburton on July 6, which will include some 80 volunteers working towards meeting a $50,000 goal.
Woudstra said last year the event raised $47,000 and then added several thousand after the event in VandenBrink’s name after he died.
“Our good friends the Hansens, Rick (Man in Motion), Amanda and family, wished to do something to honour the life of Levi VandenBrink, their friend and the love of Katie’s life. In loving memory and with the direction of Levi’s family, [a generous donation] was donated towards epilepsy research through Katie’s Run,” said a press release.
The Pogue family started the run to raise money in Katie’s name.
Part of the success of the fundraiser is due to how each participant raises money in the name of a loved one with epilepsy.
“We’ve got all these pockets of people all around Ontario fundraising on our behalf and rallying around their loved ones,” she said.
There is an undeniable special energy at the event, she said.
“There’s a magic that happens when people come together for a cause. That’s why people are travelling so far to be here because they usually have a loved one living with epilepsy,” she said. “They’re coming up here, enjoying a day together. It’s a magical atmosphere. It’s fun. It’s inspiring and that family member feels supported. They feel hope.”
Woudstra serves on an advisory committee with the Ontario Brain Institute’s research wing known as Eplink. Money raised from Katie’s Run contributes to a specific area that is chosen by the event’s organizers.
“Therefore we can follow up and check in and meet the researchers. Visit the facilities. Get a report on how things are going,” she said.
Two years ago the money went to cover the salary of a research assistant, who they visited, and got to see the work.
“So often you put money into a research pot you have no idea what’s going to happen to it,” she said.
Woudstra said the event helps connect families and those with epilepsy.
“I get emails all throughout the year and we follow up with these families all throughout the year and we offer up support, networking, or connect families to other families,” she said.
“There is a ripple effect that goes far beyond the day,” she said.
The run includes a flat and fast five-kilometre or 10-kilometre Rail Trail run and a family-friendly 2.5-kilometre walk/run, which includes those with pets, using a wheelchair or stroller.
Special guests for the event include Global’s chief meteorologist Anthony Farnell and Storm the Weather Dog as guest MC and auctioneer and Miss Canada 2019, Christine Jamieson, who will be a participant and speaker with epilepsy. This year’s event also features a silent auction and live auction.
The live auction prizes include a Matt Duchene NHL jersey, and a trip for two provided by Westjet airlines.
Woudstra encourages spectators to come and show their support.
“It’s fun just to sit at the finish line and cheer people on and watch them run over that finish line and feel like they accomplished something, right? Or the smiles on family’s faces,” she said.
She said it wouldn’t be possible without the support of local businesses, who donate items for auctions or help to sponsor.
Many of the event’s participants are from out of town, which Woudstra said is a boost to the local economy. “We’re encouraging them to come and explore,” she said.
Katie’s Run takes place on Saturday, July 6 at the Gary G. Brohman Athletic Field at the high school. Set against Head Lake, lined by trees along the shore, it’s a beautiful setting for the event.
“It’s worth the drive to come out here,” Woudstra said.