I have seen many costumed runners while running races. I am amazed at how creative some runners can be with their outfits. I plan to write about costumed runners in general some time but this post is about one very special runner, Bernadette Lack. Saturday’s Preakness race made me remember meeting Bernadette during the January 2014 Disney World Marathon Weekend. So why did a horse race in the Triple Crown make me think of Bernadette? Perhaps it was just another of those Rube Goldberg-esque ways my brain connects all the memories that I have. But here it is.
In 1997, just two days before her first birthday, Alexandra Scott was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, the most common type of cancer in infants. Alex endured many painful treatments in her battle against her cancer. She met other kids in the hospital who were also fighting that beast. When she was 4 years old, Alex decided to open a lemonade stand to raise money to help other kids with cancer. With her older brother’s help, her first lemonade stand raised $2,000. Alex kept selling lemonade and making money for her cause.
News eventually spread about this little girl doing her part to help fight childhood cancer. She was featured on Oprah and the Today Show. When asked what her goal was, Alex said she wanted to raise $1 Million. Lemonade stands started popping up all over. Inspired by Alex, other kids were raising money for childhood cancer and helping Alex reach her goal. Some corporations even kicked in large donations. Just a few weeks before her death in 2004 at just 8 years old, she did it – she had raised $1 Million. Following her death, her parents started the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation to carry on her dream of helping kids battling cancer.
The owners of the racehorse Afleet Alex had heard about Alex. (In case you were wondering, the horse was named for the son of the principal owner.) They wanted to honor Afleet Alex’s breeder who was diagnosed with colon cancer and they felt a connection to Alex and her cause. They pledged a percentage of Afleet Alex’s earnings to be donated to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. In 2005 Afleet Alex competed for the Triple Crown. Although he finished third in the Derby, Afleet Alex won the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes – no horse since 2005 has won both of those races. During the Preakness, another horse veered into the path of Afleet Alex and the horses clipped heels. Afleet Alex nearly went down but his jockey, Jeremy Rose, was able to recover and keep the horse running. Afleet Alex went on to win the race with one of the fastest final three-sixteenths in Preakness history. Jeremy could not explain how the horse went from near-tragedy to winning the race. He honestly believes that Alex lifted them up.
The sport of horse racing joined in the cause. Lemonade stands were set up at race tracks across the country. Even last Saturday at the Preakness, there was an Alex’s Lemonade Stand raising money for the foundation.
In 2014 Bernadette and I both ran the Dopey Challenge, which is 4 races in 4 days – 5K, 10K, half marathon and full marathon. Even for the best trained runner, the Dopey Challenge is physically demanding. It took a lot of effort for me to run those races but Bernadette raised the bar. Bernadette ran three of the four races in the Dopey Challenge – over 22.4 miles – wearing an Alex’s Lemonade Stand to raise money for the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation.
I had seen Bernadette during the 5K and 10K races. It is hard to miss someone running while wearing a lemonade stand. When I got on the bus to return to the hotel after the 10K, I sat down in the last seat next to a young woman. It turned out it was Bernadette. She asked me about my Ishan Gala Foundation shirt I was wearing. I explained it was a charity I fundraised for and whose focus is finding cures for neuroblastoma. That’s when Bernadette told me she was running for Alex’s Lemonade Stand and for Alex who died from the same cancer. She said the lemonade stand was in the storage area underneath the bus. Bernadette had rigged the costume so that it hung over her shoulders like a sign board but she still had to carry it. The chilly weather during the race had caused her hands to cramp up, making it even more difficult. I don’t remember what I said to her but I am certain that I didn’t expressed how inspiring she was to me.
Shortly before her death, Alex asked her mother “Help me get over that wall so I can run.” In all her life, Alex had never run. To think that an 8-year old died without ever having run a step in her life is sad beyond words. Afleet Alex, Bernadette, and all the other runners who run for the foundation have made up for it. They all ran for Alex.
When I see runners at the start line in costumes, I always think back to Bernadette. She took running in a costume to a whole new level. I am also reminded about Alex who, despite her own failing health, worked to help other children with cancer. While some may have thought her goal of raising $1 Million was just the dream of a little girl, Alex proved them wrong. In fact, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation has raised over $100 Million to fund research projects; to help support families of children receiving treatment; and to develop resources to help people everywhere affected by childhood cancer. She may have lived a short life but Alex left her mark on the world. I won’t look at a lemonade stand the same way again.
Want to see Afleet Alex’s historic performance at the Preakness? Check out this video on YouTube:
Alex Scott was a child any parent would have been proud of. Here is a short documentary about her life.
Want to know more about Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation? Here is a link to their web site.