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Sea of green love floods PCEP campus for 14th SJ5K event

 Sea of green love floods PCEP campus for 14th SJ5K event

The six families who were assisted by this year’s SJ5K wait to tell their stories to the hundreds of participants who signed up to run or walk in the annual event.

For the past 14 years, the communities of Plymouth and Canton have rarely shined brighter than on the morning of the first Sunday in May when a sea of green floods the Plymouth-Canton Educational Park campus for the heart-warming SJ5K, an annual event that has assisted over 70 local families facing life-altering adversities.

Sunday’s 14th SJ5K was a spectacular example of how volunteers — many of them high school students — can collaborate to turn extreme despair into a river of hope for people like Amy Harkins, whose husband Jimmy passed away on Dec. 24, just eight months after he was diagnosed with kidney cancer.

That the Harkins family was one of this year’s recipients was ironic, in a way, considering Jimmy, Amy and their four children for years helped recruit SJ5K participants through their deep involvement with the local soccer community.

As cancer took a debilitating toll on her husband’s health, Amy was also struggling with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Paroxysmal Tachycardia and Sjogren’s disease, all of which have the potential to make taking care of herself an almost-daily struggle.

Vital assistance

Following Jimmy’s death, the Harkins family — Amy and their four children — lost their medical benefits. Money raised by the SJ5K will help them navigate through these difficult times.

Seven members of the SJ5K student leadership group are pictured prior to the May 5 event
Seven members of the SJ5K student leadership group are pictured prior to the May 5 event

“The SJ5K organization has been amazing for our family,” Amy Harkins said, fighting back tears, moments before her family along with the five other recipient families shared their stories with the hundreds of SJ5K participants.

“To see these students, at such a young age, have such a profound impact on families like ours makes me so proud of them and happy to be a part of a community like this.”

To check out video highlights from Sunday’s event, click here.

SJ5K recipient and Plymouth High School senior Jorgito Shqau, whose left leg was amputated below the knee in Janaury after a rare but aggressive form of bone cancer was discovered in his ankle last fall, couldn’t thank the SJ5K organization enough as he walked with the aid of crutches toward the staging area.

‘Touched my heart’

“Honestly, it is just overwhelming to see how many people who don’t even know me offer support like they do,” said Shqau. “While (the SJ5K volunteers) may not know how I feel, they have made me feel better as I go through this. When I think about what they’re doing for me and my family, it literally lifts my mood if I’m feeling upset or sad.

Pictured is just a small percentage of the SJ5K participants who ran or walked five kilometers or one mile
Pictured is just a small percentage of the SJ5K participants who ran or walked five kilometers or one mile

“The love all these people have shown me has truly touched my heart.”

To learn more about all six families that were the beneficiaries of this year’s SJ5K, click here.

A trio of West Middle School students performed the National Anthem
A trio of West Middle School students performed the National Anthem

After a member of each of the six families delivered emotional and uplifting testimonials, SJ5K participants — who filled over half of the massive west stands at the P-CEP varsity stadium — headed to the starting line to complete either a 5K run or one-mile walk through the sprawling campus.

The SJ5K’s amazing namesake

The SJ5K’s namesake and inspiration is Jesse “Super Jess” Lindlbauer, who in December of 2010, while a sophomore at Canton High School, suffered a near-fatal brain injury.

Despite no previous symptoms, Jesse fought brain trauma, meningitis and other complications brought on by what was believed to be a mild sinus infection. Jesse spent 11 weeks at C.S. Mott Hospital, surviving two emergency brain surgeries before beginning his long road to recovery.

Jesse Lindlbauer is pictured during a previous SJ5K event
Jesse Lindlbauer is pictured during a previous SJ5K event

As a result of this emergency — in the Lindlbauer family’s darkest hour — local students, teachers and community stewards rallied together to offer support. Utilizing the power of community, the first ever SJ5K was created in May of 2011.

After months of planning, the event exceeded all expectations of the founding team, with over 1,800 runners in attendance and enough funds to purchase a handicap accessible van and fund home modifications to support Jesse’s adapted life.

The following year, it was decided that the event in Jesse’s name would continue on to help other Plymouth-Canton families in crisis.

Incredible volunteers

It has thrived thanks in part to the dedication of  people like Plymouth High School teacher Melanie Burkett, who coordinates the organization’s student leadership group.

“I live in this community and teach in this district, so I think it’s important to give back,” Burkett said Sunday morning, moments before the event commenced. “My son is on the planning committee and my daughter and husband are running in the event, so it’s a family affair for us.”

Burkett said the event requires almost year-round planning.

“But to see this,” she said, gesturing toward the sea of participants, most of them wearing the official green SJ5K T-shirts, “makes every second we devote to the cause worthwhile.”

Ed Wright can be reached at 734-664-4657 or edwright@socialhousenews.com.

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Ed Wright

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