In July, Ava Jones began to experience debilitating headaches, and a bump formed on the right side of her face. Parents Kevin and Kym Jones got their daughter medical attention right away, but the diagnosis was not comforting.
It turned out that Ava was suffering from rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that attacks soft tissue, such as muscle.
Nine months later, the eight-year-old bravely undergoes intense chemotherapy and proton radiation therapy while her parents juggle the demands of the workplace with the need to remain at the girl’s side.
But the Twenty Mile family soon discovered that they were not facing this challenge alone.
“A few neighbors, we all got together and just said, ‘It would be great to raise some funds for them and help them out,’” said Jon Stellwagen.
The neighbors began to plan a fundraiser that would help the Jones family with medical bills. At first, the organizers of Ava’s Army 5K were hoping to get between 50 and 100 runners to take part and raise about $10,000.
But then something phenomenal happened.
The number of registered participants has shot up to about 400 in the past four weeks, and more than $35,000 has been raised.
This increase prompted organizers to seek a locale large enough to accommodate the event. And Nocatee Community Manager David Ray stepped up to help. The 5K was relocated from its original site to the Nocatee Station Field at 400 Nocatee Center Way.
“We have a professional timing company for the race, as well,” said Stellwagen, “and they said it’s one of the biggest races they’ve done.”
The event is open not only to runners, but also to walkers and virtual runners. And straight donations may also be made.
Since planning began, the event has been expanded into a day of fun for families who want to do their part to help Ava.
There will be a kids’ fun run and other activities, a DJ, food trucks and tables and booths managed by each of the event’s 15 sponsors. Custom hats will be available for sale, and bidding has begun on a donation from the Serenata Beach Club – zero initiation and a free first month for a family membership.
Anyone wanting to participate in the run may register at avasarmy5K.com before the end of the day Thursday, April 8. Those missing that deadline may register at special packet pickup event to be held between 5 and 7 p.m. Friday, April 9, that has been dubbed “Grab a Bib, Beer & Pizza Night.” Sponsors for that event are KydRides, Anheuser-Busch and Kiki’s Ice Cream.
There will also be onsite registration and packet pickup Saturday from 7 to 7:45 a.m.
The 5K begins at 8 a.m.
For complete information, go to avasarmy5K.com.