PHILIPSBURG — The 2-mile run Saturday might have been easier for Jodie Potter than the Nittany Half Marathon she ran Dec. 4, 2011, but it was every bit as meaningful.
The happy day in 2011 turned into a nightmare when, after her race, Potter met her son in the emergency room where he was diagnosed with a cancerous neuroblastoma tumor.
On Saturday, with her son, Corban Potter, 3, celebrating almost 18 months of being cancer-free, Potter viewed the run as giving back to the community.
“They have supported us tremendously through the whole journey, and this is a little thank you to them,” she said.
Potter and her husband, Tracy, joined forces with Tom and Kari Whitehead, the parents of IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon child Emily Whitehead, to organize the second annual Virtual Hope Express run.
Emily, 8, became the first child in the world to have her own T cells — infection-fighting white blood cells in her immune system — genetically engineered to recognize and attack the cancer cells in her body. Diagnosed in May 2010, she has battled acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of pediatric cancer.
She has been cancer-free for more than a year.
The Philipsburg fundraiser was one of several events held across the country to raise funds for Hope Express, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to raise awareness for the Four Diamonds Fund.
Each February during Thon weekend, Hope Express participants hold a kickoff party at Hershey Medical Center with Thon children who can’t make it to the main event at Penn State. Then they run the 135 miles between the hospital and the Bryce Jordan Center to deliver letters to Thon dancers from the children.
Potter and Penn State graduate student Greg Smith, who danced in Thon, ran the Hope Express last year. Smith remembers one particularly steep section of his run where he could have slowed down, but he kept going when he thought of the Thon children back in Hershey.
“When you forget about yourself and focus on other people and helping them, you can run forever,” he said.
Smith kept pace with Potter on Saturday as a Hope Express representative along with people from across Centre County.
Cindy Ammerman, of Philipsburg, daughter-in-law Kylee Ammerman, of Bellefonte, and granddaughter Grace Ammerman, 2, took the opportunity to participate in the fundraiser and take in the brisk, but sunny evening.
Cindy Ammerman lives down the street from the Whiteheads and has been following their story.
About 15 students representing the mini-Thon hosted by Park Forest Elementary School in State College also participated in the fundraiser.
“We came last year, and it’s just something we have a lot of fun with,” mini-Thon adviser Nanci Rommel said.
The run began at the Whiteheads’ home and ended at a picnic at the Potters’ home. Potter said the families were able to raise more than $5,000 this year, beating last year’s $4,000 total.
Heather Hottle can be reached at 231-4636. Follow her on Twitter @hmhottle.