Rick Meehan wears his passion for what the annual Quincy to Peoria St. Jude Run represents in the inflection of his voice and the excitement in his eyes.
He attempts to downplay his own role in the success of the event, but it was Meehan and his twin brother, Randy, who got the fundraiser off the ground in 2005. Rick is no longer the run's coordinator, but still devotes countless hours to the cause because he believes so strongly in its mission and impact.
The local St. Jude Run -- and others like it across the nation -- raise money to support the research of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. Founded by the late entertainer Danny Thomas, the hospital is internationally recognized for its pioneering work in finding cures and saving the lives of children with cancer and other catastrophic childhood diseases.
"No child should die in the dawn of his life' was the goal and will of Danny Thomas," Meehan said. "In 1962, the common form of childhood cancer, acute lymphblastic leukemia, had a survival rate of 4 percent. Today, the survival rate for this once-deadly disease is 94 percent, thanks to the research and protocols developed at St. Jude."
Yeah, Rick Meehan -- and all those who take part in the St. Jude Run -- have good reason to be so committed to its success.
"I had always been active in church and other organizations, and was looking for something else to do in the community, to give back. That's about when my brother called me, and asked me if knew anything about St. Jude. He pointed out to me how blessed we were to have heathy kids and families -- and that we needed to give back. He said there was a need for this in this community ... and now, my whole family is involved -- my wife, Becky, our kids, Molly and Brandon, and their families."
"St. Jude literally helps save kids' lives. The first thing we always stress to those who want to get involved is the St. Jude Run is not a running event, it is a fundraising event -- and it will be life changing for them. It is so (rewarding) to watch them grow. The little kids and the families you meet will change your heart."
"I tell people the St. Jude Run will be one of their top 10 life experiences. You will meet people, you will learn and you will understand. When you take part in this, you become part of a family, and you will always will be part of that family. You stay in contact all year. For me, it's a 12-month-a-year commitment."
"Our group raises more money than many larger communities, and that is taking nothing away from those other communities. The first year, in 2005, we raised $10,847. Last year we raised $111,000. In the first eight years, the event has raised almost $500,000."
"It's a 132-mile trip from Quincy to Peoria. You basically live with this group of about 80 runners and volunteers for about two days. You don't worry about makeup or about how you look. You'll be hot and sweaty; it's always in the summer. The patients and their families line the streets in Peoria to welcome us ... little kids with bald heads giving you high fives ... it's incredible."
"You see powerful results, especially from a hospital that does not charge anything over what the patients' insurance does not cover. St. Jude treats all children, regardless of their economic means. Everything is covered for these kids, who are facing the biggest battle of their lives."
"The St. Jude Run would not be possible if it were not for great sponsors, runners and volunteers. I've been to St. Jude Hospital in Memphis twice. It tugs at your heartstrings to see a 2-year-old fighting for his life. These people are the true heroes. Not Rick Meehan."
Rick Meehan was interviewed by Staff Writer Steve Eighinger and photographed by Photo Editor Phil Carlson.