Brain Power 5K runners make strides to defeat brain cancer
Three years ago, Austin marathoner Iram Leon was the first to cross the finish line at Cedar Park’s Brain Power 5K, a Central Texas race that raises funds to support brain tumor research and aid the survivors of the disease. That year, Westlake resident Minerva Martinez finished last.
This month, the two brain cancer survivors finished the race together.
Leon, an acclaimed runner, volunteered to push Martinez in an adult stroller so she could complete the race despite her failing mobility, a byproduct of the brain tumors that have prompted five surgeries since her December 2013 diagnosis.
“I told (Martinez) we were going to fly, and we did,” Leon said. “We pushed it.”
However, he advised Martinez that she was going to finish the race by walking over the finish line.
“We stopped right within the last fadeaway, and we walked,” Leon said. “She did it all on her own at the very end. It took her a lot of effort to get across.”
Leon’s brain cancer diagnosis came in 2011, just a few months before the first Central Texas Brain Power event. Leon not only won the first competition but was awarded a medal for raising the most funds for its cause.
“I’ve come back every year,” Leon said of the Brain Power event. “It’s a very significant race to me.”
Martinez and Leon met three years ago at the race, as the marathoner cheered on the Westlake mom who walked the event, eventually crossing the finish line. She had endured her first surgery the prior year.
“I remembered when (Martinez) did the entire thing by herself,” Leon said at the race. “So that finish line was hers then, and it was hers today.”
A family affair
Although Miami resident Caroline Christopher said she had not planned to run the Cedar Park race, the day turned out to be a family affair when she joined about 70 other Team Alastair participants to support the group’s namesake, Westlake survivor Alastair Kirkpatrick. Christopher, a college student, was evacuated due to Hurricane Irma and landed in Austin with her mother, Elizabeth Christopher, Kirkpatrick’s sister-in-law.
“(Caroline) was evacuated, but the silver lining is that she got to be here to honor (Kirkpatrick) and run for him,” Elizabeth Christopher said. “We had eight family members fly in (to the race) from different parts of the county.”
She said Kirkpatrick was diagnosed with brain cancer 27 months ago.
“It was June of 2015 that (Kirkpatrick) woke up with a bad headache and lost vision,” said Elizabeth, a Chicago resident doing her third Brain Power 5K. “He went into the hospital, and (the doctors) were unclear what it was. About five days later, they confirmed it was glioblastoma.
“(Kirkpatrick) set his goals, and he wanted to get to June of 2017. He did and surpassed that.” She said her relative had “always been a runner, and he has always had the fastest time.”
“The first (Brain Power 5K) we did two years ago; (Kirkpatrick) had just had surgery, and he ran the last part of the (race) with me,” Elizabeth said.
Brain cancer survivors Minerva Martinez (left) and Iram Leon prepare for the Brain Power 5K on Sept. 10.