COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The only thing sweeter than the treats at the finish line of the Hot Chocolate 15K/5K was the cause the runners were supporting.
More than 12,000 people registered for Sunday’s race, billed as “America’s Sweetest Race.” The nationwide race series, which started in Chicago in 2008, benefits the Make-A-Wish Foundation and money raised funds wishes for children with critical illnesses.
Since 2008, more than 200,000 participants have run for chocolate.
“It makes me feel happy,” said Leah, an honorary Make-A-Wish kid from the starting line.
The almost 9-year-old acts her age now, dancing and cheering on runners during Sunday’s race. At age 4, that wasn’t an option after she was diagnosed with a form of Leukemia.
“During treatment, these kids are immuno-suppressed,” said Leah’s mother Jessica. “You can’t go in public, you can’t really attend school if your counts aren’t high enough to fight off bacteria and viruses.”
For several years during treatment, the family felt isolated and confined to home and hospital visits. A respite came in 2016, when Leah was healthy enough for the Make-A-Wish Foundation to grant her wish.
“My wish was to go hula dancing with Minnie Mouse,” Leah said.
The local chapter of the non-profit brought the family to Hawaii for a vacation and break from real-life worries.
“We kind of forgot about everything we were doing for treatment and just focused on having fun and making memories,” Jessica said.
Leah added, “It was a dream come true.”
Race finishers Sunday received a chocolate-themed medal and an assortment of hot chocolate, chocolate fondue, and other treats. The theme was what attracted some runners to the race.
“If you want me to run, give me chocolate at the end,” joked Marianne Topp, a 5K participant.
Many of the runners realized the greater good they were doing with their participation. Some even plan to participate next year with a fundraising goal.
“I’m looking forward to doing this again,” said 5K runner Jay Ingram. “It was a beautiful experience.”
Leah’s family said it’s been exciting watching support for Make-A-Wish grow.
“It’s overwhelming because it was so beneficial to us,” Jessica said. “I can’t imagine how great it will be for others too.”
Research shows children who have wishes granted build physical and emotional strength needed to fight their illnesses.
Find out more about Make-A-Wish Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana by clicking here.