Why this 19-year-old Charlottean is running 4,000 miles across the country

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This summer, Grace Burud will embark on the Ulman Cancer Fund's 4K for Cancer. Here, she trains in UNC's Kenan Football Stadium.

Grace Burud is done sleeping in for the summer.

Thursday, the 19-year-old Charlottean departed on a flight to San Francisco. Yesterday, her summer of early mornings were set to begin, as she runs east.

Forty-nine days later, she’ll reach her final destination: New York City. For those keeping track, that’s 4,000 miles away.

Burud is a member of the 4K for Cancer’s Team New York, a group of 25 college students embarking on the cross-country run to raise money and awareness for young adults with cancer. The coast-to-coast run will take Team New York through 14 states, two national parks, Niagara Falls and the Great Lakes.

“It’s a run for those who can’t,” Burud explained.

Along the way, runners will stop at local oncology centers to meet and provide support to young adults with cancer. Funds raised before and during the run will be given to the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults to support programs that address problems unique to young adults with cancer. Programs include training to reintroduce survivors to physical activity, guides and resources to help young adults through their cancer journey, and scholarships to help young adults affected by cancer continue their education.

So how exactly is Burud going to make it to New York City?

Every morning, the members of Team New York will partner up to cover the day’s mileage in relays. Each pair runs two miles, journeys two miles in the support van, then runs another two miles, repeating the process until the team reaches the next stop. At each destination, the team relies on the local community for support, working with local churches, schools, gyms and YMCAs to find lodging and meals.

Before departing in the morning, each team gathers for a “dedication circle” in which each runner dedicates their mileage to someone affected by cancer. The runners write that name on their legs or their shoes.

For Burud, that’s where those 4,000 miles turn personal– at the age of 9, she lost her father to cancer.

“My dad was diagnosed with cancer at 22,” Burud said. “I only knew my dad with cancer.”

The loss of her father makes for a painful story, but not one without joy: when Burud talks about her father, she tells stories of making up lyrics to popular songs together and embarking on crazy boat rides on Lake James. She speaks about his sense of humor and unwavering courage.

Over Burud’s desk at UNC hangs a photo of her father, alongside an old race bib.

Now, Burud is on track to help others.

A rising sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill, Burud studies biology and psychology on the pre-med track, with aspirations to work in oncology. In her spare time, she volunteers as a Chapel Hill EMT, often pulling shifts from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. in the middle of the school week before heading off to her 9 a.m. lectures.

Burud wanted to find a way to impact the cancer community in a positive way before graduating med school, but options were limited for undergraduate students.

“I’ve always wanted to do something to help that community,” Burud said. “Especially those who are young, because it changes your whole world.”

Then she found out about the 4K.

“I found the 4K through Facebook,” Burud said. “I was just scrolling through and saw an advertisement for a run across the country that would support young adults with cancer, and I thought it was such a great opportunity and something I could really do to help, so I went for it.”

During the 4K, Burud will run between ten and 16 miles every day. But she wasn’t always a runner. In fact, for most of her life, she didn’t run at all. Until her junior year of high school, Burud rode horses competitively. Once she stopped riding, she found herself with too much free time in her hands.

“Running was something that anyone could do from anywhere, so I just started running,” Burud said. “And then I got addicted.”

From there, things escalated quickly. In just over a year of running, Burud graduated from a 5K to a 10K to a half marathon to her first full marathon in November and, now, to her first 4,000-mile run.

“It’s physically taxing, but it’s the challenge that makes it enjoyable,” Burud said. “When you cross the finish line, when you do your mileage for the day, when you meet with that cancer patient at a location that you’ve run to, there’s no better thing in the world.”

Follow Grace on her 4K journey:

You can follow Grace @graceforcancer.

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