Staring down cancer with the help of Run Club

Written on Jun 26th, 2019 by , Category Features, News

By Steve Maher

WENATCHEE — Sharon Long still recalls the moment she came across RunWenatchee’s Run Club event several years ago. She and her husband, Lloyd, had stopped at Saddle Rock Pub in downtown Wenatchee, noticed runners and walkers congregating around a table outside, and inquired about what was going on.

The volunteers staffing the table told the Wenatchee couple that people ran or walked a 5K every Thursday night on the Apple Capital Loop Trail. It didn’t cost a dime and participants received commemorative shirts once they completed a set number of runs or walks.

“I told someone there that I didn’t run anymore. And they said, ‘It doesn’t matter,'” Sharon remembers.

That encouragement was all it took. Soon enough, Sharon and her husband were walking the Loop Trail on Thursday nights.

It was the beginning of a lasting relationship with Run Club — a relationship that would come to mean more than Sharon could imagine at the time. 

Shortly after receiving the shirt marking the completion of her 10th 5K, the Entiat High School graduate was diagnosed with Stage 4 non-small lung cancer with the EGFR mutation. She had been having back issues and a tumor was found in her spine. Her doctor told her she had anywhere from six months to five years to live. 

Rather than concede to self-pity or to depression — “Once you reach Stage 4, unless there is some incredible breakthrough, you’re always Stage 4,” she says — Sharon decided she would remain as healthy and strong as she could. She kept participating in Run Club, with the aim to receive the shirt marking the completion of her 25th 5K. As she worked toward her goal, she dubbed it her “cancer shirt.”

Before long, that shirt was in the bag. She then set her sights on the No. 50 shirt. 

When her Confluence Health oncologist, Dr. Julie Smith, learned what she was doing on Thursdays, Smith encouraged her to keep at it.

“Being in natural surroundings is so good for the soul,” Sharon says of Run Club and the Loop Trail along the Columbia River. “And it’s not just for runners. You see a wide variety of people out on the trail.

“Everyone I’ve come across at RunWenatchee has been very supportive. I tell people the (Run Club) tables are there. It keeps you strong.”

Sharon also has found inspiration from Robin Roberts’ memoir, “Everybody’s Got Something,” which chronicles the Good Morning America co-host’s own battle with cancer.

And despite what she has been through, Sharon considers her a life a blessing, thanks to two “great children,” a devoted husband, a love of music, and 24 years spent in Saudi Arabia, where her husband worked as a data analyst. The couple moved back to the Wenatchee Valley in 2006.

She has three things she goes by:

  • “Choose love. 
  • “It’s not give and take. It’s give and receive.
  • “It’s not closure. It’s integration. People who’ve suffered a tremendous loss don’t close the book. it becomes part of them.”

Earlier this spring, Sharon was honored at Run Club after completing her 50th 5K. Her husband, Lloyd, is a couple 5Ks behind her, a fact Sharon doesn’t hide when prodded by a writer.

Since its start in January 2013, Run Club has had about 3,700 people complete at least one 5K. Earlier this year, the 50,000th “runner visit” or check-in was recorded at the Run Club tables. More than 2,200 commemorative shirts have been awarded to participants who have hit a milestone mark since 2013. Run Club is staged now out of Pybus Public Market after it outgrew the previous check-in spot outside Saddle Rock Pub.

“If I make it to the jacket (given to people who have completed their 100th 5K), I will have outlived my diagnosis,” Sharon says. 

“RunWenatchee is the most beautiful thing.”

Steve Maher is co-owner of RunWenatchee and a former reporter and editor at The Wenatchee World.

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