By KAYLA J. MARSH
OCEANPORT — It’s off to the races to help raise funds to support research and education related to the treatment and cure of pediatric brain and central nervous system tumors.
The Kortney Rose Foundation will serve as the host to its 11th annual Kortney’s Challenge Two-Mile Fun Walk/Run at Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport on Aug. 7.
“We have a lot of fun things planned, it’s a family-friendly event and people of all levels can participate,” said Kristen Gillette, Kortney Rose Foundation founder and president.
Gillette said that the flat two-mile course caters to people of every ability, whether they are walkers, beginner runners or advanced runners.
Kortney Rose Gillette passed away from a terminal brainstem glioma in April 2006, four months after her diagnosis, and her parents set up the nonprofit foundation to honor her legacy and help other children through the promise of research.
“When Kortney died, she was 9, so all her friends wanted to do something for the foundation and were asking, ‘How can I help?’ ‘What can I do?’ and it was overwhelming because 9-year-olds, I didn’t know what they could do,” Gillette said. “I don’t know if someone suggested it or how I came up with the idea, but I thought of this two-mile walk/run because even a 9-year-old could do two miles.
“It allowed her friends to do something to help and … was my first venture into fundraising for research.”
The event kicks off, rain or shine, at 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 7 with registration and children’s activities that will include crafts, pony rides and face painting.
The event will also feature a Dance Plus Performance Team recital, a gift basket auction and a 50/50 raffle.
The race begins at 10 a.m. and the top three boys and girls ages 12 and under and the top three males and females ages 13 and up will receive awards.
Children 12 and under participating in the event will receive a custom Kortney’s Challenge medal.
“It started primarily [with participants coming from] our town of Oceanport, and we’ve definitely seen the participants coming from a larger area [now],” said Gillette.
“It definitely has grown as far as financial support [too]. We do have a couple corporate sponsors that sign on every year, and we seem to get new ones every year as well.
“Last year was a phenomenal year, record-setting for us [and] unprecedented. We raised $64,000 from the event.”
After Kortney’s Challenge, the foundation will hold its Day at the Races Picnic at Monmouth Park Racetrack, sponsored by the Oceanport Policemen’s Benevolent Association (PBA).
All paying entrants to Kortney’s Challenge will receive free grandstand entrance to the track for the day of racing, and children 12 and under are admitted free.
Tickets for the picnic include food, beverages and a race program.
“Monmouth Park has been a fantastic partner for us,” Gillette said. “They don’t do this for any other charity so we’re really lucky.
“What happened was, the Day at the Races event was not even something we were thinking about as much as we were invited to join the Oceanport PBA in their Day at the Races and they said, ‘We’ll host it, you can share our picnic area and it is another way for you to raise a little money’ … and that relationship has grown as the event has. We’re fortunate that they support us like that.”
Gillette said that the eighth race at last year’s event was named after The Kortney Rose Foundation, and all of the jockeys in the race wore pink helmet covers since the foundation’s colors are pink and purple.
“After the race we usually take a group photo in the finish area, with all of our supporters and then we have [some] people who are allowed to go into the finish area and give the winning trophy to the horse, the owner, the trainer and the jockey,” Gillette said. “Every year I try to get a child or a family whose been affected by a brain tumor to be able to do that and … it is really special when you get these people who have been affected involved.”
For more information, including links to pre-register for Kortney’s Challenge and for tickets to Day at the Races visit www.thekortneyrosefoundation.org.
Runners who pre-register online or via mail by July 29 will save $5 and receive a T-shirt.
According to Gillette, approximately 4 percent of federal funding goes towards research aimed at finding cures for the different types of childhood cancers.
Today, more than 3,500 children are diagnosed annually with brain tumors, and it is the number one cancer cause of death in children age 20 and under, she said.
Since its inception, the Kortney Rose Foundation has raised funds to build a playground in Kortney’s honor at her old school, Wolf Hill Elementary in Oceanport; worked with local legislators to make May Brain Tumor Awareness month throughout the state; and donated more than one million dollars to the pediatric brain tumor research program at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Ninety-five percent of every dollar donated to the foundation goes directly to this research, and the foundation has also helped to establish the hospital’s Children’s Brain Tumor Tissue Consortium.