WHAT ARE THE HUG AWARDS?
The Houston’s Unsung Greats Awards (HUG Awards) are sponsored by Attorney Stewart J. Guss to honor those local men and women who make a special contribution to the community of Houston.
Each month we award a prize of $100 and a Houston Hero t-shirt, and each year we give one of the local heroes $1000. These blog posts highlight the great work done the the charity workers who are among this year’s 6 contenders for the annual award.
THE CHARITY: BLING FOR BRAVERY / SNOWDROP FOUNDATION
The second of our six final contenders is the inspirational Larry DeSpain who established the Bling for Bravery Program for the Snowdrop Foundation.
The Snowdrop Foundation is dedicated to assisting patients and families at Texas Children’s Cancer Center through funding for continued research to eliminate childhood cancer and scholarships for college bound pediatric cancer patients and survivors. Bling for Bravery is a program devised by Larry DeSpain through the Snowdrop Foundation. It makes the connection between the tremendous strength and bravery shown by children suffering from cancer and grit and determination of long distance runners. Afterall, who could me more deserving of a medal than pediatric cancer patients at Texas Children’s Cancer Hospital in Houston?
To learn more about The Snowdrop Foundation watch this video.
THE NOMINEE: LARRY DeSPAIN
Back in 2007 Larry ‘The Blok’ DeSpain (at the age of 62) was encouraged (challenged) to run the Houston Half Marathon by his son-in-law. Around that same time Larry was moved by the story of a family friend, Brianna Garza, who was diagnosed with Leukemia at the age of three months. He also happened to attend a presentation by a speaker from The Snowdrop Foundation and while thinking about how he could help and inspired by the bravery of children like Brianna Garza, he came up with the idea of Bling For Bravery. He has quite literally been ‘running’ the program ever since. Here is what Trish Kline had to say when she nominated Larry:
Larry, Started the Bling for Bravery Program. Bling for Bravery is a program developed through the Snowdrop Foundation to celebrate and reward the bravery of the pediatric cancer patients at Texas Children’s Cancer Hospital in Houston, TX. The mission is to distribute finisher’s medals from races from Half Marathons through Ultra Marathons including Triathlons to the children at the hospital to recognize and celebrate their bravery in dealing with cancer. The common thread of dedication and bravery of training for long distance races and triathlons is mirrored by the patients at the hospital.
Here is a little more information about Bling For Bravery, in Larry’s own words:
My most memorable moments are seeing the smiles on the patients faces as I talk to them about the training required and how the person decided to donate the medal representing the completion of a journey. I refer to it as putting big smiles on little faces. Most have never had the opportunity to compete in sports and have never received a medal. From the way they receive and cherish them, one would think they were Olympic medals. I will never forget the time the mother followed me out of the room to thank me stating that her son was having a bad day and that was the first time she had seen him smile in several days. Times like these make all the effort worthwhile.
I have received medals from all over the United States. I would estimate that I have received them from close to 500 runners. I think I have received medals from every state as well as a few countries outside the United States; Canada, the Netherlands, Greece, Portugal and Brazil come to mind. I receive the medals, remove the ribbons if they are still attached and replace it with a custom designed Snowdrop Foundation ribbon. I buy the ribbon from Hobby Lobby, ship it to Michigan for printing and then take them to LA Tailor to have either a ring or a medal affixed to the ribbon.
I don’t really know how many medals we have handed out. We started slowly the first couple of years but have added special days and now hand out 140-150 medals a year. I would estimate that we have distributed 750-800 medals since 2009. Our biggest days are now Chelsey’s blanket day, Easter and Go Texan Day. We also visited this year at the start of Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month and might make one more visit a year. I typically take 50 medals at a time of which no two are alike. I will present three of them to the patient and let them choose the medal they would like to receive. Many of the medals have notes accompanying them written by the donor. If not, I try to convey the training required, the location of the race and a little bit about the race. The exception is Go Texan Day where all the patients receive a Texas themed medal. This year it was from the Tejas Triathlon.
THE CASE STUDY: COREY FILER
Cory is a Snowdrop Foundation scholarship recipient, a Team Snowdrop Foundation runner who has run Chevron Houston Marathon and half marathon and is the first cancer survivor recipient of free coaching from world ultra-running elite, Connie Gardner.
His goal is to run the 2018 Chevron Houston Marathon in under 5 hours. With an 11-time USA Track & Field National Champion as his coach, and seeing his current times, I have no doubt he will shatter 5 hours in January.
Here is Cory‘s story, told by his mom, Laura:
Cory was always an “old soul”. He knew from a very young age that he wanted to go into the Air Force and be a pilot when he grew up.
On Labor Day 2007 I noticed he had a lump the size of a quarter on his neck. At the suggestion of an ER doctor where I worked I demanded that testing be run on this lump (the pediatrician thought I was crazy).
The lump turned out to be Burkett’s Lymphoma.
After more testing, and to the amazement of the doctors, his cancer was caught at stage 1. Burkett’s is one of the fastest growing cancers and almost never caught while it is stage 1!
His treatment lasted ’til Thanksgiving and we had our child home in remission for Christmas.
The morning of his very first follow up visit I looked down at his neck and that is a moment I will probably never forget..the lump was back.
This time the cancer was in his neck and kidney, stage IV.
This time treatment was much longer and tougher.. spinal taps once a month for six months, in-patient chemo, outpatient chemo, blood and platelet transfusions, and antibody therapy that was still experimental in kids (which he had a terrible reaction to the first of 4 doses).
In June, after missing his entire 5th grade school year, he was finished with treatment and has been cancer free since!
Cory went on to compete in athletics and excelled in high school.
Cancer did take away his dream of going into the Air Force and flying. Because he had cancer 10 years earlier, the military said he was a “liability”.
He decided that he would enter the Process Technology program at San Jac where he graduated in December with almost straight A’s!
If you would like to get involved with Bling For Bravery or learn more about the amazing work of the Snowdrop Foundation go to their website: http://snowdropfoundation.org/ or follow them on Facebook, Youtube or Twitter.