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CHaD Hero Participants Have Stories to Share

  • Griffin Lafountain, left, of Newport, and Dr. Steve Chapman, of Hanover, near the finish line of the CHaD Hero event in Hanover in 2014. When Chapman saw how well Lafountain did on two wheels, it inspired him to spearhead a road cycling component that is now in its third year. Courtesy photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/18/2017 11:32:37 PM
Modified: 10/19/2017 3:15:44 PM

Founded in 2006 as a half marathon to benefit the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock, the annual CHaD Hero has added numerous events over the years to cater to various types of athletes. Five-kilometer runs and walks have been added, along with hiking options and, most recently, 50- and 25-mile bicycle rides — the latter of which is debuting Sunday.

And, of course, there is Cam’s Course, the 1-mile fun run/walk named in honor of CHaD patient Cameron Marshall.

More events mean more stress-relieving exercise outlets for CHaD patients and families, many of whom participate on CHaD Hero day.

Kellie Walker and her 14-year-old son, Charlie — who experienced an in utero stroke, was airlifted to DHMC as a newborn and continues to receive treatment there — are preparing to run the half marathon on Sunday.

Though she hasn’t run seriously since high school, Kellie Walker, 34, used training this summer to boost her mood and get out of the house with Charlie, who requires 24-hour care and will join his mom by way of an adaptive jogging stroller.

“Charlie has a weak left side, just like an adult stroke victim might,” said Walker, of Littleton, N.H. “He also has epilepsy, so there is a risk of seizures. Someone pretty much always has to be with him, and my husband (also Charles) works, so the gym isn’t really an option for me. It’s been awesome to get outside and work out with him and go through this (training) together. This event has been on our bucket list for many years, but has never worked out until now. We can’t wait until Sunday.”

Fourth-grader Shannon Watson, of Proctor, Vt., is a cystic fibrosis patient who last year ran the 5K. This year, she was named the event’s Kid Hero ambassador and has represented the event at several functions, including a registration kickoff at River Valley Club last spring.

She’ll be back at it during an opening event Saturday and at the finish line on Sunday in Hanover. Shannon also hopes to also run the 5K again — last year she clocked an impressive 39 minutes, 12 seconds — though she may need to do the 5K walk instead because of new medications that hamper her mobility, her mother, also Shannon, said.

“She’s had a tough year. She’s been admitted (to CHaD) six times since the end of March,” the elder Watson said. “She had a spell in ICU on the pediatrician floor and was flown in by helicopter from Rutland last month, which was a first. But she has been great about it the whole time.”

Watson enjoys knowing that CHaD Hero supports programs such as the hospital’s Child Life Program, which adheres to the psychological needs of patients being treated. Watson has taken full advantage.

“The Child Life Program has really helped Shannon and a lot of other kids a ton,” Shannon Watson said. “There are all kinds of activities and toys for them, but more than that is just the emotional support they receive. She recently got (a long IV procedure) awake, without anesthesia, and Child Life was with her the whole time for support. It definitely helped her get through it.”

Chris Smith, whose 4-year-old daughter, Avery, was diagnosed with leukemia last April and is receiving chemotherapy at CHaD, is in awe of his child’s reaction to the care at CHaD.

“It might sound strange, but she actually loves going on trips to the hospital,” said Smith, of Concord. “There’s a kids play area there that she really looks forward to. She loves the nurses, they love her and she just really enjoys the experience. It’s pretty amazing, because we’ll be going in for chemo and for her it’s like she’s on her way to a birthday party.”

Smith, the assistant dean of admissions and head squash coach at St. Paul’s School, is preparing to run his first-ever half marathon at CHaD, which he said has been rewarding — both for him and his daughter.

“Cancer is what it is, but the biggest struggle I’d say is that because of Avery’s immune system, (my wife, Caitlin, and I) don’t take her to a lot of places you would normally take a 4-year-old, like play dates, playgrounds or restaurants,” said Smith. “It’s helpful for both of us to get out of the house when I train. It kind of allows us to reset.”

Smith has also been overwhelmed by the response to the family’s CHaD Hero team, Team brAVERY, which has 43 members and had raised more than $9,700 as of late Wednesday afternoon. That doesn’t include matches to be provided by Hanover-based youth empowerment nonprofit Positive Tracks for all members 23-and-under.

“I’ve got friends coming from New Jersey, New York City, the Boston area, and a bunch of students from St. Paul’s. It’s just amazing how much Team brAVERY has caught on,” Smith said. “Our goal was $5,000, so we’ll probably double that easily by Sunday.”

The event also is helping Concord resident Scott DeRoche branch out athletically. DeRoche never had logged more than a few miles at once on a bike, but recently received a used road cycle as a gift and was inspired to register for the 50-mile bike ride, founded by CHaD pediatrician Steve Chapman in 2015. The route extends into Etna, Lyme and Orford before crossing into Vermont and going alongside Lake Morey and Lake Fairlee.

DeRoche’s young daughter, Sutton, a year ago experienced a dangerous hyperglycemic episode and was treated at CHaD.

“I had almost no experience on a bike before, and now I’ve probably logged 1,000 miles this year,” DeRoche said. “The whole experience has been humbling. My family is blessed because things are looking good for Sutton.”

Jeff Hastings, the former Olympic ski jumper and Hanover resident who founded the event in 2006, also has been humbled by the way the breadth and scope of CHaD Hero has advanced. The event has raised more than $5 million total for CHaD and has 2,016 registered participants this year on top of more than 300 volunteers.

Hastings is most touched by the stories he hears on the day of the event. Stories like those of the Walkers, Watsons, Smiths and DeRoches, who persevere together with their children with the help of CHaD.

“Leading up to the event, I work mostly on the race side of things,” said Hastings. “When it comes to race day and I spend the day meeting people, what they have to say never ceases to amaze me.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at or 603-727-3225.

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