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by Stephanie Mueller   |   February 10, 2021

My 127.1 Mile Labor of Love

127.1 miles
78 days
41 5k races
1 amazing Bold for Blue quilt
A true labor of love and a lifetime of memories…

When I had the idea to run all 41 ZERO the End of Prostate Cancer 5k’s in 2020, I never could have imagined the impact that I would be making on men and families across the country, as well as myself and my family!

My journey that brought me to ZERO began in 2012. I decided that I wanted to train to run a 5k. Me! The girl who hated exercise. The girl who hated gym class. I had friends that were runners, and I thought I would take on the challenge. Halfway through training, my father, Steve, was diagnosed with prostate cancer! It was devastating news… but, we were hopeful it was caught early.

I began searching for what would be my very 1st 5k race to run. I found it… Dash for Dads to benefit ZERO – The End of Prostate Cancer! So incredibly perfect! As I continued to train, my dad had surgery and began his recovery. When I crossed my very 1st 5k Finish Line on 10/14/12, my dad, along with my entire family, were waiting for me.

An amazing day that would forever change my life!

I caught the running bug and have continued to run races and “run for fun”… running nearly 4,000 lifetime miles since August of 2012. And, I have run in the Cleveland ZERO Prostate Cancer Run/Walks every year since then with last year being my 9th race. Each year at the race, we have been able to celebrate another year with my dad, now an 8-year survivor! I became more involved with ZERO and their mission. In 2016, I was invited to attend my 1st ZERO Prostate Cancer Summit in Washington, D.C. There I met incredible ZERO heroes and advocates like myself and vowed that I would return each year to support the mission … and gather with my new ZERO family. I attended my 5th Summit in 2020.

Sadly, 2020 wasn’t what anyone had hoped it would be, and I learned in May that all the ZERO races would be virtual. I was devastated to learn this as running races has become such an important part of my life, especially the ZERO race each year. However, I was determined to make the most of the Cleveland virtual race, planning a route at a local park where family and friends could join me to walk or run the miles to honor my dad and support ZERO. AND, I was honored to be asked by ZERO to be the official host of ZERO’s Cleveland Prostate Cancer Virtual Celebration!

Stephanie Mueller, Capitol Hill

The first virtual ZERO races for 2020 were June 20 for the Capital Area and Salt Lake City. I had met the Nikituk family (Cheryl, Meghan and Tara) through the annual Summit, and they invited all ZERO Champions around the country to join their team in memory of Paul, Cheryl’s husband and Meghan and Tara’s father. I joined their team, and ran a route that spelled DAD. It was Father’s Day weekend, which was perfect! I did a Facebook Live before running to share who I was running for and information about ZERO. And, I popped on Facebook during and after my run to give everyone an update.

And, during that run… what would become a labor of love was created! (I do my best thinking while running!) As I was running, I decided that I would pick ZERO races around the country where I personally knew survivors; warriors (men still battling); caregivers who had lost loved ones; and fellow ZERO advocates. I would ask family and friends to sponsor me for each race so that I could earn the official race shirt from that city. And, then prior to running each city’s 5k, I would do a Facebook Live to give a shout-out to my donor and tell the story of the person I was running for that day.

I made a list of the men and caregivers who I had become closest to during my time with ZERO. I would be honored to run for each of them and share their amazing stories of determination and perseverance!

On June 23, I made a post on my Facebook page, listing 11 ZERO races and asked for donations. By July 6, I had the first 11 races sponsored and decided to pick a few more. I quickly had those sponsored, too… and decided why not get ALL 41 ZERO races sponsored! Happily, I received the final donation the day before the Cleveland race on August 29 … the race that started it all for me, and the race I run each year to honor my dad! I had raised more than $2,000 for ZERO … exceeding my goal!

And now began the real journey to achieve my goal!

I reached out to my fellow ZERO Champions and ZERO staff to help connect me with people across the country so that I could highlight each city. On Saturday, August 29, I started what I can only describe as a labor of love. I wanted to run all the races between then and November 14, the final scheduled date for ZERO races. I invited my running friends to join me on this adventure … and what an adventure it truly was for me! I ran in the early morning before sunrise. I ran in cold temps below 30 degrees. I ran in the afternoon sun’s warmth. I ran in multiple cities. I ran along the shores of Lake Erie. I ran with friends. I ran solo. I ran multiple 5k’s on some days. But, I ran in a ZERO shirt each time!

I started every 5k with a Facebook Live video thanking my donor and telling the story of the survivor/warrior/caregiver/advocate for that city. I snapped a selfie with the “I’m #ZEROStrong For” sign with the person’s name before I began each run.

And, on Saturday, November 14, my best friend, Susan, joined me in completing the final miles, and we celebrated my incredible journey!

From the moment that I had the idea to run multiple ZERO races and collect the shirts from each city, I knew exactly what I would do with those shirts. A quilt … a Bold for Blue quilt! And, I knew THE PERFECT person to create the quilt … Jess, a prostate cancer survivor! Jess created a masterpiece that I will cherish forever, to commemorate my 127.1 mile journey and as a remembrance of the survivors, warriors, loved ones lost, caregivers and advocates. I will always be grateful to Jess, and her incredible talent!

The list is long of the amazing new people that I added to my ZERO family! I heard many stories of strength, and I learned about cherished loved ones who lost their battle. I received wonderful mementos from teams that I joined across the country… walnuts on key chains, photos, foam fingers, water bottles, medals, stickers, shirts, and even a stuffed toy prostate — seriously!

But, one person’s letter perfectly sums up my labor of love! I joined Joe Musumeci’s team Fighting Men Fighting Cancer in South Jersey. He sent me a sign to wear while I ran with his team’s name, along with a letter. In that letter, he said … “I hate this damn disease, but I love the people who I’ve met because of it.”

No truer words could be spoken about prostate cancer! I certainly hate that my father had to face this disease. I’m grateful that he overcame it, and he is living a healthy life. But, I will be forever grateful that his journey with the disease led me to my own incredible journey. I have met THE MOST AWE-INSPIRING people around the country. My life is blessed having met them … some never in person, only through online, emails, and phone calls.

My best friend who ran many of the races with me, including the final one, recently made me realize that if it hadn’t been for the pandemic, I wouldn’t have taken this incredible journey. And, she’s 100% correct! If the ZERO races hadn’t been virtual and the Nikituk’s hadn’t invited all the ZERO Champions to join their team, I wouldn’t have created the “labor of love” idea to run these virtual races. So, when I look back on 2020, I will forever remember my Bold for Blue journey to run all 41 ZERO races! And, I will forever be changed by the amazing people who have come into my life because of this disease.