Welliver runs ‘For The Kids’

By on February 10, 2016

Lititz’s J.P. Welliver (center) and his Hope Express team will be  running from Hershey to State College in the ongoing fight against  pediatric cancer

Imagine running in the dead of night. It’s freezing cold, with a wind chill of minus-25 degrees. You can see your breath. There are icicles forming on your eyebrows. Your legs feel like rubber.

You’re running all the way from Hershey to State College.

“But it’s all for a good cause. A very good cause,” says J.P. Welliver of Lititz.

Welliver will be participating in the Extreme Team Run next week as part of the Hope Express at Hershey Medical Center. The event ties into the 46-hour, no-sleep THON dance marathon that benefits the Four Diamonds Fund for kids and their families who are facing childhood cancer.

That is the good cause that would make a 27-year-old man leave the warmth of his home and run more than 20 miles in a long-distance relay across Central Pennsylvania in below freezing temperatures.

“Whenever I feel cold or achy or tired or like I just can’t go on, I think of the children who are fighting for their lives. They are the brave ones,” says Welliver.

As he points out, running several legs of the 140-mile trek along the river, up hills and through woods is his way of honoring the children and their families who fight a courageous battle each day, not just for 24 hours.

Last year, Welliver was on the Hope Team. That team is not as intense as the Extreme Team that he will be participating on this year. With the Hope Team, he ended up running about 14 miles total over the 24 hour period.

“However, last year during the run, it was the coldest night recorded in history, so it was quite challenging. A lot of us had icicles forming on our eyebrows and nasty wind and snow drifts to deal with. My last leg was a mountain and I remember crying out in pain because I just wanted to give up,” he says.

His parents happened to be half way up the mountain on that last leg and he can still remember crying when he saw them cheering him on. Besides, he couldn’t cry. It was too cold. Tears would have frozen on his face.

“I had to keep in the back of my mind why I was doing this,” says Welliver. “It kept me going during the tough times. And it was humbling to realize my battle was nothing like the children’s battles against cancer.”

The 2006 graduate of Warwick High School went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in telecommunications from Penn State University. He is currently employed as a customer solutions specialist at The WEBStaurant Store in Lititz and serves as music director at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Penryn. He is also involved in local theatre, including roles in “Shrek,” “Spamalot,” and the upcoming “Hello Dolly!” at Ephrata Performing Arts Center.

Being on the Extreme Team is a tougher role than he ever imagined. Even though he enjoys working out and running, it’s an event that takes extra stamina. He was chosen from a large field of runners, which was narrowed down to just 12 hopefuls. They include Welliver, as well as Jenifer Benovy, Becky Harney, Hope Trenga, Amanda Unger, Janine Marczak, Heather Detwiler, Stephanie Wittig, Andrew Solomon. Brianne Seguin, Matt Rokita and Mara Stengler.

Their route will parallel The Hope Team route to Carlisle, then the Extreme Team will then head due north and go over the mountains. Each runner will run 18-20 miles.

Their purpose in running in the dark of night, during the depth of winter is to deliver letters to THON. That’s the big fund-raising marathon dance for the Four Diamonds Fund, held at the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State.

“It involves several teams that run over a 24-hour period carrying a backpack of letters for the dancers from the kids who are unable to make it to THON,” says Welliver. “We are on a mission to deliver these letters of thanks from the kids.”

Welliver is also raising funds for the foundation, which go directly to pediatric cancer research. Through pledges, he was able to raise nearly $3,800 last year. This year, he expects to top $4,000. Donations can still be made by going to the Hope Express website at thehopeexpress.org/ftk.

Welliver heard about the Hope Express two years ago from one of his friends. He decided to apply and got a spot on the Hope Team.

“I always loved THON when I was at Penn State and because I like to run, I thought this would be a neat way to stay active even when not at the Penn State campus,” says Welliver.

He expects that being on the Extreme Team will be even tougher.

“The emotions that you feel during the legs of running in the 24-hour period are unreal. These families and kids suffer so much on a daily basis and if I, along with my teammates, can continue to raise awareness to those around us, then eventually we will win the fight over this disease,” says Welliver, adding that he thinks of family members and friends who have battled cancer.

Some have lost. As he says, “One of these days, we will find a cure, but until then, we will press on, fight our hardest, and work together to conquer cancer.”

Welliver won’t be the only one from Lititz participating in the fundraiser for the Four Diamonds Foundation. According to Haley Staub, media relations captain for the 2016 Penn State Dance Marathon, there will be 13 students from Lancaster County participating in the THON dance marathon.

Laura Knowles is a freelance reporter who covers the Warwick School District beat for the Record Express. She welcomes reader feedback and story ideas at lknowles21@gmail.com.

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