A competition about more than just winning
October 11, 2018
Sunday’s annual Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, hosted just a few miles from campus, was a testament to the willpower of all who participated. For two Santa Clara students, the motivating factor was bigger than personal achievement.
Last spring, Ethan Collins was enjoying the final quarter of his sophomore year—attending class, hanging out with friends and going about his days like most of his peers. Following Memorial Day weekend, that all changed.
After feeling symptoms of what he thought to be concurrent sinus and ear infections, Collins’ health worsened almost overnight, prompting him to visit the hospital. After several tests, a diagnosis surfaced: Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia.
Collins was transferred to UC San Francisco’s Benioff Children’s Hospital, where he began his initial treatment of chemotherapy. With friends and family there to support him, Collins remained in the Bay Area until he could be transferred to a hospital in his home city of Boston this past June, where he is currently undergoing treatment.
Junior Jim O’Brien and senior Asa Sweetser, close friends and members of the Sigma Pi Fraternity with Collins, saw Sunday’s race as an opportunity to show their support.
“Last year, I ran it for my aunt, who has ovarian cancer, and I raised money for her,” Sweetser said. “I decided that this year I’d do it for [Ethan]. Jim then thought it would be a great idea for us to race against each other.”
Thus, a friendly competition began.
In an effort to raise money to pay for mounting medical bills, the pair decided that they would do so in the way they knew best: gambling. Using the electronic payment platform Venmo, an account (@EthanCollins-Fundraiser) was established.
Patrons would “bet” however much they wanted, naming their choice of winner in the description. If their choice won, betters would be returned 50 percent of their initial payment and the remainder would be donated directly to the Collins family. If their pick lost, 100 percent of the money would be donated.
O’Brien began the arduous task of training for the half-marathon while he was in Texas this summer during ROTC training.
“I started off by running three miles pretty much every day, then on the weekends I’d do a longer run,” O’Brien said. “Every week, I’d increase what I was doing daily and toward the end I was running five-ish miles during the weekday and up to 11 miles on the weekend.”
Although he’d developed a workout plan the first time he ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, Sweetser admits that he did not follow it adamantly over the summer.
“As soon as I got back to school, which was five weeks before the race, I started running five times a week,” Sweetser said.
Following weeks of smack-talk and fundraising, race day finally came. Early Sunday morning, Sweetser and O’Brien embarked on the 13.1 mile trek through San Jose, cheered on as they ran by a crowd of Santa Clara students. Exactly one hour and 56 minutes later, the first of the two crossed the finish line: Sweetser had won. O’Brien trailed just one minute and 54 seconds behind.
Both of them, however, had accomplished what they set out to do. Between betting and direct donations, Sweetser and O’Brien raised an impressive $2,400 for the Collins family. And, rather than keep 50 percent of their initial bet, every single participant who picked Sweetser reapportioned their “winnings” to the fund.
Collins, whose friends and supporters are far-reaching here at Santa Clara, expressed his gratitude following the race.
“It means a lot that Jim and Asa would run this race for me. Being out here in Boston during treatment, seeing them put this together and fundraise and really rally the community showed how much they care. It’s people like them that I can think about when I do have those bad days,” he said.
Collins, whose lymphoma is now in remission, has recently begun treatment for leukemia. If things go well, it is a safe bet he’ll be back to school as soon as possible.
Contact John Brussa at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.