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SJ5K’s namesake, team of heroes moving mountains years after life-altering crisis

 SJ5K’s namesake, team of heroes moving mountains years after life-altering crisis

Jesse Lindlbauer is pictured taking a break in his recumbent bike.

A manufacturer of million-watt smiles, a friend to everyone who crossed his path, Jesse Lindlbauer’s life was forever altered one day in December of 2010 when an undiagnosed abscess burst near his brain, stripping the popular Canton High School sophomore of most of the physical and cognitive skills he had learned the first 16 years of his life.

There was no way of knowing on that catastrophic day the uphill battle “Super Jess” would face (he was hospitalized for 11 weeks), how many challenges he would conquer (he has defied doctors’ predictions that he’d never speak), how many lives he would positively impact and how many figurative mountains he’d help move.

Now 29, Lindlbauer is the namesake of the Super Jess 5K (SJ5K), an annual event launched in 2011 to help the Lindlbauer family purchase a handicap-accessible van and fund home modifications to support Jesse’s adapted life.

For the past several years, however, the event has grown angelic wings.

A helping hand

With the help of Plymouth-Canton Educational Park student volunteers in conjunction with adult advisors (including Super Jess’s family), families that have been afflicted with indescribable health issues are selected as benefactors of the funds raised by the SJ5K.

Pictured are SJ5K club managers Sophia Barkoot (left) and Megan Wetzler.
Pictured are SJ5K club managers Sophia Barkoot left and Megan Wetzler

Heading into the 2023 event — scheduled for May 7 at 8 a.m. at the Plymouth-Canton Educational Park varsity stadium — approximately $1 million has been raised to help over 45 families navigate through their health-related crisis.

This year’s event will aid five families, all of whom have faced monumental obstacles with courage and fortitude.

“It’s a great feeling knowing we’re doing something to help these families get through their crisis,” said Sophia Barkoot, a Canton High School senior who has volunteered for the SJ5K club for four years. “When you learn what these families have been through — and what they’re going through — you gain a greater appreciation for their resilience and perseverance.”

Helping out warms hearts of volunteers

Megan Wetzler, a Plymouth High School senior and five-year member of the SJ5K club, explained the money that is raised by the event is divided among the families based on their needs. Some of the recipients have been forced to stop working due to their — or their family member’s — health issues.

“It’s heart-warming to know what we’re doing is making a difference in these families’ lives,” Wetzler said. “And you can tell the families we’re helping are very appreciative of the efforts made by everyone involved in the SJ5K.”

One of the unique aspects of the SJ5K is that medals are not presented to the fastest runners (although an official clock is running for participants who want to know their time).

It’s all about participating in a great cause, not crossing the finish line first.

Jesse Lindlbauer (right) is pictured with good friend Johnny Etienne a couple years before his life-altering health crisis.
Jesse Lindlbauer right is pictured with good friend Johnny Etienne a couple years before his life altering health crisis

“We do distribute a few awards, but they have nothing to do with the runners’ times,” Barkoot said, smiling. “We have enthusiasm awards, stuff like that. The way it’s set up, you don’t have to be an avid runner to make a difference.”

To register for the 2023 SJ5K, click here.

The SJ5K club hosts dinners and events for the families leading up to the race.

Families face crisis with courage

The five families selected to be benefactors of this year’s event are:

* The family of Hudson Gazsi. Five-year-old Hudson Gazsi was diagnosed in August of 2022 with ALL B Cell Leukemia, which has required multiple rounds of chemotherapy, lumbar punctures and steroid injections. Born into a family of athletes, Hudson played baseball before his diagnosis and is looking forward to the day he can follow in his brothers’ footsteps and play football for the Plymouth-Canton Steelers.

The family has maintained a fiercely positive attitude, which is reflected in the “Huddy Buddy Strong” T-shirts they wear.

* The family of Michael Fisher. Abnormalities of Michael’s chromosomes 14 and 15 have led to a challenging first year for the 1-year-old and his family. Heart issues, seizures and difficulty breathing have required regular visits to University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, where his mom Angela was a nurse.

Parents John and Angela have been warriors through Michael’s health crisis, maintaining an upbeat attitude for Michael’s two sisters, Lily and Claire, and doing everything in their power to bring a certain level of normalcy to their family’s life.

Photos of the five families that were chosen to receive funds raised by the 2023 SJ5K.
Photos of the five families that were chosen to receive funds raised by the 2023 SJ5K

Doing whatever it takes

Every family birthday the past year has been celebrated at the hospital — but no one complains. “We’re just want Michael to have the best life he can,” John Fisher said.

* The family of Cillian Buster. On July 9, 2021, Cillian was born with numerous health issues that affected his heart, respiration and face, among other things — all caused by a genetic disorder called CHARGE Syndrome. His family — parents Dana and Steve (both of whom are nurses); sister Mars, a freshman at Plymouth High School; and brother Wyatt, a third-grader at Hulsing Elementary School — has powered through the crisis as their once-everyday routine has been altered so that Cillian can receive the extraordinary care he requires. As much as possible they manage to squeeze in snowball fights, morning wrestles and trick-or-treating.

Dana works from home and Steve takes care of Cillian at night — whatever it takes to make their children’s lives as comfortable and full as possible.

* The family of Jason Garland. In 2014, at the age of 37, Jason — the father of two daughters — was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis after lesions were discovered on his brain in the wake of a seizure he experienced at work. He continued to work until April of 2021, however fatigue, immobility and grand mal seizures forced him to quit “because I couldn’t walk through the door to get into my office.”

Faced with a daunting financial situation, the Garland family has persevered through sacrifice. Jason’s youngest daughter Madelyn is a senior at Salem High School and works at Canton’s Szechuan restaurant to help pay the bills. His first-born daughter Alyssa (a 2018 Salem graduate) was an SJ5K recipient after enduring a brain tumor.

Garland’s parents and his daughters work collaboratively to take care of Jason. The funds the family will receive from the SJ5K will help pay for his treatment and help his parents purchase necessities for the family.

* The family of Jeff Fehlig. The Fehligs — Jeff, his three sons (Jeremy, Justen and Jordan) and their late wife/mother Nancy — have faced more than their share of adversity the past few years.

Nancy passed away in February 2022 from lung cancer and Jeff, the owner of a construction company, was diagnosed in January 2022 with metastatic colon cancer.

Instead of drowning in self pity, Jeff and his sons march on. Due to his family’s health issues, Justen abandoned his dreams of attending college and currently works 60-hour weeks at Motown Harley Davidson while Jordan, a senior at Plymouth High School, works at Waltonwood Retirement Center. Jeremy is away from home, but he helps whenever he can.

Jeff, who has been unable to work due to the side effects caused by chemotherapy, maintains a positive outlook on life.

“We’re alive and I’m happy to be with my boys every day,” he said.

If you would like to donate to the SJ5K fund without actually participating in the race, click here.

Members of the SJ5K club.
Members of the SJ5K club
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Ed Wright

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