Photo by Morgan Sarkissian on Unsplash

by Kate Orland Bere

Copyright August 2020

Every run in our lives, every challenge, begins with a first step. Continuing to recognize that there are new steps to take, different directions in which to move, different dances to learn – this is critical to realize as well – to continue to challenge the self, in order to build resilience, character, and to help those struggling against something larger than themselves. This is what has happened with Theresa Carriere in the decision she made, while on a run back in 2009, while considering how in the aftermath of her own victorious battle with breast cancer – which she successfully fought off with a double mastectomy at the age of 43 – how could she help others who were perhaps less fortunate? What could she do to help those battling cancer? 

How many people ask this question of themselves?

And that is the moment when Theresa had a brilliant idea – a crazy, beautiful idea. To run 100 kilometres in one day to raise awareness and funds to help those who were battling breast cancer as she had. To help families. And from that thought, and that one run and one amazing idea that she then proceeded to act upon, has sprung a steadily growing organization called ONERUN that has had a phenomenal impact on her London community – and now well beyond it. Theresa Carriere and her committed ONERUN team, now ten years in from their first 100 k run (accomplished in just one day), have continuously shown themselves to be adaptable, resilient, and absolutely creative in keeping their fundraiser not just alive, but growing exponentially each year in community engagement and leadership. 

But if one asks Theresa why did she initially dig deeper within herself to launch this significant challenge, not just to herself in the running of the 100 k and undergoing the substantive annual training that would be necessary for such an athletic feat to be even possible, but also to challenge her community to step up to support those families, those individuals who were[are] suffering from cancer, Theresa will tell you that she did not initially feel that she had any solutions or advice for others in their own cancer battles. She wanted to put it all behind her; she did not want to look back. But she eventually realized that what she did have was an abundance of faith, determination, resolve, and courage. She also had a large, supportive family, especially her sister Maria who had urged her to have that critical mammogram at 43 years of age that caught her cancer early, a loving husband, and four equally determined children who would grow to become significant bearers of the ONERUN flame. Their enthusiasm and the eager help of their friends and teachers for the cancer cause has meant that now 15 high schools in London hold annual ONERUN fundraiser events of their own. This year, for the first time, an elementary school also planned and held a ONERUN event – marking a new development in community participation.

All of this deep involvement of Theresa’s family and her ONERUN team has inspired significant breast cancer awareness within Ontario’s school network, with Theresa visiting 87 schools throughout the province in 2011 to give her presentation on the organization’s goals, firing the imaginations of kids about their mission. What she discovered then changed her life, and changed her approach to her entire mission. Children at the schools, after hearing her speak, and watching an inspiring video showing the run, and learning the ONERUN dance (yes, there is a dance!) would often approach Theresa after the event to tell her of their own challenges in life. Theresa was moved that so many children had such serious difficulties to negotiate and overcome so early in their lives. Bullying, addictions, violence, sickness, disease, poverty: these difficulties and more the children revealed in their stories, illuminating their loneliness, stress, anxiety, depression, fear. The realization that Theresa had only scratched the surface of the lives she touches by running that annual 100 k has seriously stiffened her resolve to keep ONERUN alive and growing – and now not only for those battling breast cancer, or cancer of any kind, but for those children everywhere who need hope in their lives and for their futures. 

The ONERUN team seeks to make the annual June fundraiser an inclusive, exciting, and fun event where everyone – and every child in particular – is included and encouraged to be as crazy-wild with excitement as they like, where they can dance the ONERUN dance to their heart’s content while cheering on Theresa and/or the Runners of Hope. Who are the Runners of Hope? Chosen by Theresa, these runners are cancer-survivors who volunteer to run a portion of the 100 k with Theresa or, as in this year, a portion of the run in her stead. This is a brilliant inclusive idea to give others an opportunity to step up as obviously Theresa will need to devote energies to growing other aspects of ONERUN, and cannot sustain running 100 k every year indefinitely. The Runners of Hope will offer new innovations and opportunities for growth within ONERUN’s mission. 

In 2020, due to Covid-19 complications, the team once again came up with a brilliant strategy. Spectators could not be gathered closely to watch the run, and therefore it was decided, Paulette Soscia, ONERUN’s project manager explained, that the 2020 focus would be on increasing engagement – community participation – rather than on fundraising. There was a virtual challenge announced: with free registration, anyone anywhere could accept the challenge to do 100 k themselves over one month, by any means they preferred – running, walking, dancing, scootering, hopscotching, you-name-it! This idea truly took hold. Many families, youth, and children trapped in their homes with the lockdown, ran with this idea, with the result that ONERUN had 1400 who accepted this virtual challenge! The fundraiser still brought in $151,000  in 2020 with this virtual focus, while significantly expanding ONERUN’s base of supporters. There were even people participating from as far away as Costa Rica, Florida, and even Australia! Care was taken that people did not gather in groups along the course in a dangerous time, and expose themselves or others to contagion. A huge success! Two nonprofits, Wellspring and ChildCan, were the recipients of all the funds raised in 2020 by ONERUN

What benefits has ONERUN wrought in its community and well beyond? Over ten years, ONERUN has now contributed a total of 1.3 MILLION dollars to families struggling with cancer. The expansion of this unique fundraiser into high schools and now a first elementary school have promoted greater awareness and educational opportunities for all schools, and it has also opened up dialogue to create support networks for children or families suffering their own battles, whether financial, emotional, or psychological. The growth of ONERUN has led to leadership and community engagement opportunities that in their own turn inspire confidence, creativity and resilience in the children and youth who become either eager participants and/or organizers of the annual run. Youth see, firsthand, how such an event is developed and organized, and how it can inspire so many – offer hope to so many. This gives these youth an enormous step-up in developing valuable skills that might otherwise never have flourished. ONERUN exposes the stories of the troubled, simply by touching their hearts, and giving them a space where it feels safe and right to speak of troubles – a place where shame or fear does not silence them. 

Finally, ONERUN allows the community to potentially communicate with other communities across the globe, sharing (now that a virtual event has proven such a success, it is not going to end with Covid-19) awareness and support to those who need it most. ONERUN engenders empathy for others, strong listening skills, good health (both physical and emotional), and promotes active community bonding and engagement. One reason people seem to want to be involved year after year is due to the positive, genuine emotions experienced during the event, with a warm authenticity that continues to inspire them long after the annual event ends.

All of these impactful things were initiated because one woman who won her battle against cancer, went on a run one day, and asked herself – what can I do to help? Theresa Carriere acted and answered that question, giving birth to a powerful movement of hope.