(L to R) Sarah and Kelly Larson, Kayleen's parents, wait for the runners to return under the finish line. "It is so wonderful to be remembered. [Kayleen's] still in their hearts. It makes it a little easier to bear," said Sarah Larson. (Photo by Aleah Stenberg)

Kayleen Larson Legacy 5K Run/Walk

Contributing Writer
Aleah Stenberg
The rain dripping through the trees could not dampen the spirits of everyone who attended the Kayleen Larson Legacy 5K Run/Walk held Saturday morning at Sportsman's Park in Clearwater.
The first Kayleen Larson Legacy 5K was originally created by friends and neighbors to help raise money for Kayleen's medical expenses. This year, the money raised goes to the Kayleen Larson Legacy Foundation. 
For a Good Cause
The foundation then gives gifts to other organizations to help children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. Recently, the Kayleen Larson Legacy Foundation has recently donated to Tanner's Team, L.L.S. Donor Services, Spare Key, Cure Search for Children's Cancer, Blair's Tree of Hope, Miracles of Mitch, and Star Studio - Children's Hospital and Clinics. 
Before the race started, runners, walkers and their families waited under the trees, clustered under umbrellas and ponchos after stopping by the registration table. In the registration bag, there was information about Be the Match, the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry. Before the AML leukemia became too aggressive for Kayleen, her only chance for long term remission was a bone marrow transplant, and race participants were encouraged to join the donor registry. To register, visit http://Join.Marrow. Org/TeamKayleen. 
"I think it's awesome that so many people came out to support this  even in this crappy weather," said Heidi Czech of St. Cloud, who heard about the race through coworker, and Kayleen's brother, Jon Frikken.
Words from Mom
At 9 a.m., Janet Peterson called everyone together at the starting line and commended their true dedication to come out, despite the rain. Then Peterson introduced Sarah Larson, Kayleen's mom, to give the opening speech.
"We've had quite a year. We almost didn't have the race last year, but decided to do it for seed and to start this foundation," said Larson, who later explained that last year's race was to finance Kayleen's bone marrow transplant, but when that no longer was needed, they questioned even having the race.
"The last two and a half year journey has been intensely bittersweet. The bitter is obvious. Someone asked me, 'What is the sweet?' The sweet was all the people who came to our side; friends, family, strangers."
"We are all part of the same thing. We want to be part of something bigger. Someone said that we are dancing in the rain today - that's what it's all about. We're in the process of planning the next year, and we will continue to put our hands out to people who are walking that hard path. Thank you for being the sweet in the bitter," concluded Larson. 
With that, the runners and walkers were off, on a route that Kayleen ran not long ago. 
As the racers left and the park cleared, Larson reflected, "It's really moving to see people walking down the street to help people they don't even know."
For Larson, the ability to turn around and help people on that hard and lonely path, and to see others join in that kindness is the most exciting thing about the race. 
"People came back this year, too," said Larson. "It is so wonderful to be remembered. She's still in their hearts. It makes it a little easier to bear."
Kid Zone
After the race, families headed over to the Kid Zone for crazy hair, Jamberry Nails, relay races, a t-ball hitting contest, and face painting. The Kona Ice truck lightened the atmosphere with its festive music and tasty shaved ice, while Valerie Jeffery, an Independent Designer from Origami Owl Custom Jewelry, also had a booth with all proceeds going to the Kayleen Larson Legacy Foundation. 
While the clouds lingered over the park, nothing could dampen the spirits of the volunteers and the hundreds of people who attended. Whether they ran in honor of Kayleen, a family member, friends who have struggled though cancer, or overcoming a personal battle, everyone left uplifted. 
The Kayleen Larson Legacy Foundation is grateful for all their sponsors, including All State Communications, Traditional Floors & Design Center, KNSI AM 1450/KM 103.3, One Main Financial, Clearwater Eye Clinic, Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union, and Photos by Michael Born.


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Kara Zoller, Health Promotions Supervisor