2016-07-08 / Front Page

Color Ashley a hero

Young cancer survivor named a ‘Color Run Hero’
By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer


The Sanderson family of Kennebunk, from left, father Doug, Ashley and mom Bre, celebrate after completing the 2014 Color Run in South Portland. At the time, Ashley was suffering from cancer, having been diagnosed just months earlier, having made a long stay at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland. (Courtesy photos) The Sanderson family of Kennebunk, from left, father Doug, Ashley and mom Bre, celebrate after completing the 2014 Color Run in South Portland. At the time, Ashley was suffering from cancer, having been diagnosed just months earlier, having made a long stay at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland. (Courtesy photos) KENNEBUNK — When the fourth annual Color Run concluded in South Portland June 26, the hero of the event was a runner who was only 2 years old when Maine’s largest charity 5k first answered the starting gun in 2013

Ashley Sanderson, age 6, of Kennebunk, has participated in the event twice before, but this year marked her first running free of the cancer that once ravaged her young body.

“When something like that happens, there’s no way to prepare for it, when you get the phone call that says, ‘You need to get to the hospital, the oncologist is waiting for you,’” said Ashley’s mother Bre.

“It’s been a stressful time. It’s one of those things that makes or breaks you, and with a lot of families it can do a lot of damage to the relationships between parents, but my husband and I were fortunate in that I think it brought us closer. That’s due in large part to Ashley, who was amazing, able to keep a smile on her face every day though the entire ordeal.”

For her perseverance and courage, Ashley Sanderson was named “The Color Run Hero” of the 2016 South Portland Color Run, an event that helps raise money for the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital where she lived for three months during her treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Diagnosed in 2013 at age 3, Sanderson has been in and out of the hospital over the last three years, but is now celebrating six months since being declared cancer-free. As a Color Run Hero, she was brought on stage after the run, still caked with Technicolor splotches, to count down the close of festivities to help participants take on a final dose of rainbow hues. It was a chance to both celebrate her life’s victory and inspire the crowd as a representative of all kids at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital.

Bre Sanderson says the event did mark a major life transition for Ashley, given that cancer is all she’s ever known.

“She was only 3 when she was diagnosed, so I really don’t know how much of her life she even remembers from before she started not feeling well,” she said. “This is definitely a celebration for us, and she’s pretty excited. This will be our third year participating in the Color Run, but her first cancer-free. We had signed up again before we were invited to participate in the ceremonies, because it’s something she really looks forward to all year. It’s a really fun event that does a lot of good.”

Since its inception locally in 2013, the Color Run has raised nearly $120,000 for the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital, donating a share of each entry fee from the 6,000 race entrants.

“I would love for people to enter and continue to contribute to the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital,” Bre Sanderson said. “They’re amazing there. It really takes a special kind of person to do what they do, from their nurses, to the doctors, to the support staff, and the fundraising really helps with what they do there.

“I’d like to think other hospitals have similar programs – I really don’t know because the Barbara Bush Hospital is all we’ve known – but the staff there does a really great job with the kids, taking their minds off of what’s going on, being stuck with needles and other scary parts,” Sanderson said.

“They even pulled me aside and helped me when I needed it, they weren’t there only for Ashley,” Sanderson said. “I remember I wouldn’t even go down to the cafeteria to get food because I didn’t want to leave her side, but everyone there was really great about supporting us and encouraging us to remember to take care of ourselves, too.”

The fun-run event helping the hospital is staged by Utah-based Color Run LLC, which bills its runnings as “the happiest 5k on the planet.”

During the race, runners dressed in white are pelted at each kilometer with nontoxic cornstarch powder, dyed in a variety of bright hues. By the time they reach the finish line, participants appear to be running rainbows. Color Run follows a “leave no trace” policy, using its own crews to ensure all colored power is cleaned and removed from the course, which winds a route from Bug Light Park through the West End neighborhoods surrounding the Southern Maine Community College campus.

Since its founding in March 2011, Color Run has organized events in more than 200 cities in 40 countries worldwide, making it the largest 5k event series on the planet, having raised more than $4 million for various charities like the Barbara Bush hospital.

With no winners or official times, Color Run organizers say the event is meant to celebrate healthy living, happiness and individuality, helping participants achieve their fitness goals by providing a fun, non-intimidating running environment.

“We want to bring happiness and health to people’s lives and The Color Run does just that,” event director Alec Fowler said. “We are excited to come to South Portland and give Color Runners the opportunity to step into paradise with us and enjoy a 5K vacation that only The Color Run can create.”

But for Ashley, this year’s event was an opportunity to finally start being a kid again.

“I think I’ll was a little less nervous about her getting hurt or too run down,” her mother said. “This year, it was really just fun.”

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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