Soaring ‘gracefully’ for a cure

WEDDINGTON – At the tender age of 7, Grace McGrath was “promoted to heaven” after a nine-month battle with cancer. But nearly three years later, Grace’s legacy still lives on and, for the second year in a row, will fuel the Charlotte-area Race Against the Odds 5K.

Sean and Jennifer McGrath, along with their son, Nate, started the Soar with Grace Foundation after their daughter, Grace, died from a rare form of pediatric brain cancer. The nonprofit will host the Race Against the Odds 5K for the second year in a row on June 1 at Weddington United Methodist Church.

Sean and Jennifer McGrath, along with their son, Nate, started the Soar with Grace Foundation after their daughter, Grace, died from a rare form of pediatric brain cancer. The nonprofit will host the Race Against the Odds 5K for the second year in a row on June 1 at Weddington United Methodist Church.

Sponsored by the nonprofit Soar with Grace Foundation, the race will take place June 1, a Saturday, at 8 a.m. at Weddington United Methodist Church, 13901 Providence Road. The cost to participate is $25 for adults and $15 for those 17 years old and younger. Racers can register online at www.RaceAgainstTheOdds.com. Proceeds from the event benefit the nonprofit The Cure Starts Now for pediatric brain tumor research.

Grace was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) – a rare form of pediatric brain cancer – in late 2009 and lived until August 2010. Because of the location of her tumor, as well as limited funding for research on rare pediatric cancers, there weren’t many treatment options.

“You quickly realize how limited you are in terms of how to take care of your child,” Sean McGrath, Grace’s father, said. “It’s not just our family impacted (but) 250 children annually.”

Striving to both honor Grace’s memory and help those battling pediatric brain cancer around the world, McGrath and his wife, Jennifer, launched the Soar with Grace Foundation. The nonprofit raises money to fund pediatric brain tumor research, promotes pediatric brain tumor awareness with an emphasis on DIPG and provides emotional and financial support for families facing these illnesses.

“We started the foundation for three reasons – to honor the legacy of our daughter, create awareness and raise much-needed funding for this disease,” McGrath said.

Soar with Grace hosts two big fundraisers each year – a tennis event in the fall and the Race Against the Odds 5K during the spring.

“We tried to pick two things that Gracie loved to do,” McGrath said. “She loved to run and she loved to play tennis.”

Race Against the Odds events are held nationwide and benefit The Cure Starts Now, Soar with Grace’s partner nonprofit. Last year was not only the first time the nonprofit had hosted the 5K, but it also was the first Race

Against the Odds event held in the Charlotte area. McGrath said he hoped to see about 250 people show up but was astonished when more than 700 people participated, raising more than $51,000.

This year’s race will follow the same course as last year’s event, beginning at Weddington United Methodist Church and continuing down Weddington Church Road, according to race organizer Jennifer Lassiter. Chick-fil-A, one of the race’s sponsors, will be at the event with food and refreshments, and other personnel will be on site to ensure runners’ safety.

“It’s a very family-friendly event,” Lassiter said. “There will be tons of kids from (local schools), and all their friends come and run.”

Lassiter said the race falls at an appropriate time of the year, as May is Brain Tumor Awareness Month.

“Even though the race is in June, we chose (the date) so the race could be promoted during Brain Tumor Awareness Month,” she said, adding the foundation hopes to hold next year’s race in May.

For Grace’s parents and 12-year-old brother, Nate, hosting the race has been somewhat of a healing process.

“It gives us a sense of purpose, and if we can take one small step or several giant steps to help, we’re learning to live for something much greater than ourselves,” McGrath said.

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