11 months ago

2019 Spring/Summer Highlights of Hope


PURPLE COMMUNITY 26.2 MILES OF LOVE AND DETERMINATION — PURPLE COMMUNITY’S TEAM HOPE MARATHON RUNNERS Aaron DeVos was surrounded by runners from every corner of the world as he bounded across the Verrazzano- Narrows Bridge, connecting Staten Island and Brooklyn hundreds of feet above New York Harbor. Rising up from the morning mist, New York City’s towering landscape provided a backdrop for a day he would never forget — the day he completed the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon as a member of Purple Community’s Team Hope. DeVos trained rigorously for months leading up to the event, but nothing prepared him for the mental and physical demands that this world-class marathon required of him. “The New York Marathon was extremely demanding in every way,” DeVos said. “As tough as it was, it was still a really great experience. You’re just soaking it all in as you run — the city, the energy, the cultural diversity of each of the neighborhoods, and the millions of people cheering you on. It’s really incredible.” DeVos became a member of Team Hope through his membership on the Institute’s young professionals board, the JBoard Ambassadors. A runner for more than 14 years, DeVos was approached to join the team and knew he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to run in support of something he felt very strongly about — cancer research. TODD & BRENDA GARDNER “Our family has been affected in a number of different ways when it comes to cancer,” DeVos said. “Knowing that you’re running for something bigger than yourself really motivates you to take on the challenge.” In 2018, members of Team Hope ran in both the Bank of America Chicago Marathon and the TCS New York City Marathon and raised more than ,000. Most of the team’s members traveled to the events from West Michigan, often motivated by a personal connection to cancer or Parkinson’s disease. During the last stretch of the Chicago Marathon, Team Hope member Brenda Gardner’s knee gave out, and for a few fleeting seconds, she thought she’d be unable to finish the race. Then, as if by fate, she looked out into the cheering sea of people that lined the route and spotted a group of young Chicago police officers — and one of them looked right at Gardner and said without missing a beat, “You don’t give up …” “I needed to hear that,” Gardner said. AARON DEVOS (LEFT) RUNNING IN THE 2018 TCS NEW YORK CITY MARATHON. Those few words of encouragement gave her the inspiration she needed to finish the race — a race she was running for 26 | VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE

her husband who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s when he was 41-years-old and in the prime of his life. “It was a very scary time in our lives,” she said. “Parkinson’s was considered to be an older person's disease, so to be diagnosed when you’re a young man and the father of a young child is really devastating. We thought we had a perfect little life, and then, Parkinson’s changed everything.” Following the diagnosis, Gardner’s husband, Todd, created a small nonprofit organization that hosts a golf outing to raise funds for Parkinson’s-related causes. “We decided that instead of being angry, we would take the high road and do something positive,” Gardner said. “As long as you have hope, you can do anything — and as long as you’re alive, there is always hope.” Like Gardner, DeVos also runs motivated by his connection to a devastating disease that affected the love of his life. When his wife, Afton, was finishing high school she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and spent the last part of her teenage years fighting for her life. “My wife, Afton, is an 18-year cancer survivor,” DeVos said. “She won her battle, but had to fight it when she was just a teenager. I met her when she celebrated her five-year cancer-free mark, so all of this really hits home for me.” Both DeVos and Gardner believe passionately in the Institute’s mission and its research that might one day put an end to cancer and Parkinson’s. They run because of the love they feel for those closest to their hearts, but they also understand that their efforts have a wider impact on a future they might never know. “I know that we might not see a cure for Parkinson’s in our lifetime, but in my heart, I know that my husband and I can do something to help the generations to come,” Gardner said. With every step, through every marathon mile, bonded by shared experiences, the members of Team Hope give their all to benefit research that might one day change the course of human health. Being a member of Team Hope means the world to Gardner because as she often reminds her family, friends and teammates, “There is no better feeling in the world than giving of yourself for a cause you believe in AARON & AFTON DEVOS and knowing that along the way you might have helped someone, somewhere … It's a feeling you can’t explain … and it’s truly the best feeling in the world.” If you are interested in getting involved with Purple Community, please contact Ashley Owen at VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE | 27

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