Some walked. Some ran. Some were even pushed in strollers. But everyone had one goal in mind, working together to find a cure for INAD, raising more than $22,000 for research.
This year's second A Grace-Filled Journey 5K and one-mile fun run and walk event drew more than 550 participants of all ages to Hillsboro for the start of the race, with another 150 participating virtually in all 50 states and five foreign countries. The race is held in honor of five-year-old Grace Herschelman of Hillsboro, who was diagnosed with INAD (infantile neuroaxonal dystrophy) in November 2014. All proceeds from the race benefit an ongoing research study at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, with Dr. Paul Kotzbauer.
"This isn't just about running," said John Galer, who coordinates the race with his wife, Emily. "This is about stepping up for those who can't, being their legs and helping to find a cure for INAD."
Herschelman is the niece of the Galer couple, who reside in Alexandria, VA.
Many local volunteers help prepare the event as well, including members of the Hillsboro High School National Honor Society.
Prior to the start of the race, Galer welcomed everyone and thanked them for their participation, and Pastor Mike Lawton of the Hillsboro United Methodist Church offered a prayer. Just before runners took off, Dr. Kotzbauer addressed the crowd, talking about his history in INAD research, as well as a new avenue he plans to pursue. Kotzbauer and two members of his lab, Dhruva Dhavale and Rebecca Miller, participated in the race.
Several groups also participated together, including the M&M Multisport Club, the Litchfield High School volleyball team, the Hillsboro High School volleyball team and the Fillmore United Methodist Church.
Following the finish of the race, kids of all ages enjoyed a variety of free family friendly activities, including a petting zoo with the Hillsboro High School FFA, face painting with the Hillsboro High School Art Club, balloon animals with Professor Longhair, kids activities and a bounce house with the Hillsboro Area Hospital Junior Board, snowcones by Joe Snow from Noko and a chance to meet Ronald McDonald, courtesy of McGraw Enterprises.
Members of the Hillsboro Sertoma Club also grilled pork patties for lunch, and two of Herschelman's friends, Hazel Holshouser and Dahlia Maass, sold Krispy Kreme donuts to raise money for research.
"What an awesome way for our community to come together," said Grace's mom, Mary Herschelman. "We are so humbled and honored by those who joined us here and participated all over the world."
In addition to having participation in all 50 states, several people joined the cause internationally. Raymond native Kylie Walsh participated in Bangkok, Thailand, while another former Lincolnwood High School alumnus Zeb Hoffman and his wife, Naomi participated in England. Sam Clark, whose son Caleb is affected by INAD, participated in Australia, while Farmersville native and current Marine Konner Nimmo joined the fun in Japan, with several of his fellow Marines. A group from Hillsboro, including Ralph and Anne McLaughlin, Mike and Cheryl Whitten and Gene and Mary Dickenson, participated in Alberta, Canada, while on a bus trip.
"We completed it in Nebraska," said Laura Wagahoff, originally from Raymond. "We are so thankful today for the chance to do this with our family today, and encourage our girls to keep going because we love Grace. We are so thankful to teach the girls a few life lessons, compassion and to keep going because Grace isn't able to walk or ride a bike right now, so we want to do it for her."
Infantile neuraxonal dystrophy is an extremely rare genetic disorder that affects the nervous system. There are around 50 known cases worldwide, and children with INAD lose the ability to walk and talk. Many do not live to see their tenth birthday.
To learn more about Grace's story, visit them online at www.agracefilledjourney.com or find her pages on Facebook and Twitter.
"To everyone who had a part in making this day a huge success, we will forever be grateful," said Mary Herschelman. "We love you all."