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Athletes inspired to run for friends, neighbors

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What does sports have to do with charity work?

Despite those reassurances from the NBA and the NFL, sometimes I wonder.

Sure, it's easy to find stories about professional athletes reading to under-privileged youth, but I can't always tell what's heartfelt and what's a photo opportunity.

What moves a multimillionaire sports star to spend the day building houses with Habitat for Humanity? Was it fulfilling a contractual obligation? Or is it a deep passion to use some of that celebrity to inspire and help others?

Maybe the motivation doesn't matter. I mean, at least they're lending a hand.

Interestingly, I had none of these philosophical arguments with myself over those who ran the MyoMed Ragnar Relay Wasatch Back last weekend. A good number of the 578 teams ran the 181-mile race from Logan to Park City to honor a friend, raise money for a cause or educate the rest of us about subjects we'd rather just ignore.

Teams Off Piste, there were two of them, took to the scenic race route to honor Christine Brimely, who died last June of Colon Cancer. In addition to raising money for a fountain that was built in her honor on the Shoreline Trail, Brimely's friends hope everyone takes some time to have a colon cancer screening.

"She would want people to do that," said her friend and teammate Anne Killgore, who spear-headed the effort to find 24 people to run and raise money.

Darla's Angels ran in honor of Darla Lallatin, who died of breast cancer last year. Her sister-in-law Candace Aaron wanted to honor Darla's love of running while trying to eradicate the disease that killed her.

"One of the last conversations I had with her," said Aaron, "she told me how much she missed running and how she hoped she could get well enough to run again. Sadly, her hope never came true and she passed away shortly after."

Aaron and her teammates hoped to raise $5,000 to be donated to the National Breast Cancer Foundation in Darla's memory.

The race is over, but it's not to late to help Darla's Angels honor her. Donations can be made at www.firstgiving.com/runningangels.

Notso Macho Libre enjoyed the Wasatch Back last year so much, they decided only one thing could make it even more meaningful — do it on behalf of someone else.

"The experience and accomplishment last summer was so much fun and amazing, that this year we thought we would add to the excitement by running for a cause," said team member Ashley Okerlund.

The team ran for a young girl named Emily Austin, who was diagnosed with Leukemia at age five.

How can you complain about running up a 7 percent grade in 90-degree heat when you know the little girl you're running for has dealt with far worse for much longer? Austin has endured two separate rounds of chemotherapy, and finally, after the Leukemia returned for a third time, she underwent a bone marrow transplant in December of 2006. Thus far, Austin is enjoying good health, but her family is still trying to recover from the crushing medical bills.

Dr. Steve Barry, the Notso Macho Libre team captain is a neighbor of the Austins. With help from co-workers and friends, Dr. Barry created the Cancer Assistance Fund for Youth Charity to help the families of cancer patients deal with ever-increasing costs associated with medical treatments.

While the Notso Macho Libre squad planned to donate all they earned during their relay to the Austin family, the group plans to continue raising money to help the families of cancer patients. Donations can be made at www.cafy.org.

So what does sports have to do with charity work?

Sometimes those in need are lifted up by those who get paid to entertain, to perform. And sometimes it is those who are suffering who lift and inspire the athletes.

E-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com