Runners, walkers hop on ‘Hope Express’ to honor kids who beat cancer
Centre Daily times

Published: September 16, 2012
By Lori Falce For the CDT
PHILIPSBURG — Committed runners, walkers and more followed balloons like breadcrumbs, searching for a happy ending in Philipsburg on Saturday.

Hansel and Gretel in this case are Emily Whitehead, 7, and Corban Potter, 21/ 2, two local kids who have fought and beat their wicked

witch, cancer, in the past year. Emily’s battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia captured her real world community as well as a network of thousands on the Web.

That makes it fitting that that the two were the catalyst at the middle of a local “virtual” leg of Hope Express, a run that brings letters from sick kids at Hershey Medical Center the 135 miles to Penn State’s IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, raising money and spirits. Hank Angus co-founded the event in 2006 when his son Gabriel was a cancer patient at Hershey.

On Saturday, 13 Virtual Hope Express events happened around the country, including six in Pennsylvania and two in Centre County.

“We decided on (Sept. 15) because that was the date Gabriel was diagnosed with leukemia,” said Angus.

The Philipsburg connection came about when both Emily and Corban were at Hershey Medical Center when the last Hope Express left the station. Corban’s mom, Jodie, an avid runner, kept track of the program.

When she heard about the virtual version, she wanted to get involved. She puzzled about how to involve the two Thon kids and incorporate the 135-mile distance until it hit her. It’s almost exactly two miles from Emily’s house on one side of town to the Potter home on the other in Rush Township. All she needed was about 68 people to cover the distance.

Signs went up around town. People got involved. Could they walk instead? How about ride a bike? Or a motorcycle? Jodie Potter said yes to all, and more than 150 people followed a trail of arrows and balloons down Centre Street, over Presqueisle, down 15th, through a field and across a footbridge to get to a victory tent of cupcakes and doughnuts.

“I think it was a fantastic example of a great cause,” said Lara Sharpless, 13, who followed the route with her sister Hannah, 17.

For Lois Rea, it’s a cause she understood too well.

“It was good fun,” she said. “I’ve been touched by Emily, especially as I fight my own battle with cancer. If a 7-year-old and a 2-year-old can do it, so can I.”

Even those who didn’t register took part, like Rea’s son who came to support her and ended up running the route, and a carpool of 30 participants from Park Forest Elementary.

“The support of the community has been overwhelming,” Potter said. “Such enthusiasm. People want to see the kids be OK.”