Running to Raise Cancer Awareness

Amanda Murray at Grand Canyon
September 12, 2019

Pharm.D. candidate Amanda Murray always had a simple reason for her strong love of running: “It sets me free.”

However, the St. John’s University sophomore was fleet of foot for 49 days across the United States this past summer not just for her own sake, but to champion others as they cope with a cancer diagnosis.

“This was the perfect opportunity for me to run on behalf of people who do not have the ability to do so because they are affected by cancer,”  said Amanda, who attends the University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. A member of the cross-country and track teams throughout her high school career in Boyertown, PA, Amanda is now a dedicated member of the Running Track Club, part of the St. John’s Club Sports Program.

From June 16 to August 3, she traveled with a group of 21 college-aged students on a more than 4,000-mile relay run from San Francisco, CA, to Baltimore, MD, as part of the Ulman 4K for Cancer. The Ulman Foundation, which aims to create a community of support for young adults and their loved ones who are impacted by cancer, established the fundraising and awareness initiative. Proceeds from the event, now in its 18th year, help fund the day-to-day needs of the young adult cancer community, as well as the Ulman Foundation’s Ulman House.

Amanda, who raised more than $6,000 during the coast-to-coast relay run, said three people who bravely faced serious illnesses moved her to participate in the 4K for Cancer.

“When I was 14, my grandfather was diagnosed with brain cancer. Over the course of a year, I watched him transform from a hardworking man into one limited to a hospital bed,” Amanda wrote in her biography that is posted on the Ulman Foundation website. She was also touched by a suite mate during her first year at St. John’s who successfully battled leukemia, and has great admiration for an aunt who suffered a debilitating stroke that paralyzed her entire left side at a relatively young age.

“My aunt had her stroke when I was just four years old,” Amanda said.

“From that point on, I have always wanted to help people; that is also why I want to become a pharmacist.”  

Amanda said each member of the running team covered an average of 10 to 16 miles per day. As a group, they ran up to 180 miles per day. The team members ran in pairs for two-mile stretches until they were relieved by a fresh pair of runners, who traveled in a 15-passenger van.

Along the way, she embraced new places and experiences—and learned some new things about herself.

In addition to California and Maryland, the runners relayed their way through Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, and West Virginia. “I had never been away from the East Coast before the run, and the furthest I had been from home was Florida,” Amanda said.

On days off from running, Amanda said, the team was encouraged to take part in fun activities that included skydiving and tours of six national parks. They also visited various supermarkets along their journey, sharing stories of their work for the Ulman Foundation in exchange for donations of food to cover their meals.

“We stayed at any location along the way that would offer us a place to sleep,” said Amanda, including churches, community centers, universities, private homes, and firehouses.

All of these experiences enhanced Amanda’s desire to assist others as she navigated her journey toward helping young cancer patients. “I got the chance to meet amazing people from all over the country and learn from their stories.”

“I was completely following my heart while doing the run,” added Amanda. “There was nothing that could stop me. Taking part in this event makes me excited to find my next big adventure and opportunity to turn my passions into a worthwhile purpose.”