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Hope Express Runners Endure Frigid 135-Mile Trek To THON

Here in State College, residents are braving the extreme cold in the streets and students are making the frigid trek to the Bryce Jordan Center for THON.

It’s cold enough but it doesn’t begin to compare to what 30 runners are doing as part of the Hope Express, completing a frigid 135-mile marathon of sorts from the Penn State Hershel Medical Center to the Bryce Jordan Center in less than a day.

Hank and Connie Angus, the parents of Four Diamonds Fund child Gabriel, a 12-year-old boy who is now five years free of cancer, founded the event in 2007.

The couple wanted to provide inspiration for those at THON and bridge the gap between Four Diamonds families stuck in Hershey and both families and dancers at THON. They are running over 135 miles, divided into three teams that rotate in shifts, to deliver messages of encouragement from the children’s hospital to THON.

“We’re running for the kids and and a lot of us are running for family members who have been affected by cancer,” Stephanie Wittig says. “We’re keeping all of them pretty close to our heart and that’s what’s getting us through the crazy hours and the cold winds.”

Wittig is running in the Hope Express for the third time and danced in 2010 as the THON chair of Women in Business. As of Friday afternoon, she has run two three-mile legs at 11:30 p.m. on Thursday and 6:30 a.m. Friday. Wittig says that with the wind chill it felt like -23 degrees during her late-night shift.

“It was very cold, but we have a lot keeping us going and a really awesome support system and a lot of people cheering us on,” Wittig says.

Precautions are being taken to ensure that the runners are as safe as possible while confronting the dangerously cold temperatures. They are required to wear multiple layers, including a mask or scarf, hats, gloves, and hand-warmers.

Members of the Hope Express’s Extreme Team, which takes to the mountains and endures a high-elevation running route, faced -30 wind chills through the night and early morning.

“The cold isn’t slowing them down so much in terms of actual running time, but we’re definitely seeing it in their fatigue level,” he says. “It does take a lot of effort to be out in this kind of cold.”

The Hope Express uses RVs to follow the runners and allow them to stay warm between their shifts, but they lost one vehicle to break down even before the run began on Thursday. A second RV lost a battery to the cold, requiring a quick, last-minute repair.

Even through the weather and technical difficulties, Hank says the runners will arrive in State College on time. They’re expected to arrive at the Bryce Jordan Center by 3:15 p.m. The 2015 Hope Express runners will be welcomed  by a human tunnel outside the BJC at 5:30 p.m.

About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a StateCollege.com reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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