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North Huntingdon girl's legacy alive through 'Race for Grace'

| Thursday, April 4, 2013, 4:06 a.m.
Norma Kutscher | Daily News
During last year's Race for Grace, Jim Leax, Ashley Metz Leax, and Grace's parents Brian and Tamara Ekis, and sister Claire take part in the traditional singing of Amazing Grace.
Norma Kutscher | Daily News
Saturday's annual Race for Grace Run/Walk is in memory of 5-year-oldd Grace Elizabeth Ekis who died of a rare, non-curable form of pediatric brain cancer. These participants took part in last year's event, which raised $101,000 to help families of children afflicted with the disease..

A North Huntingdon Township girl's memory lives on through a race against cancer.

Five-year-old Grace Elizabeth Ekis died on Feb. 14, 2008, from diffuse intrinsic potine glioma, a rare non-curable form of pediatric brain cancer that caused an inoperable tumor in her brain stem.

Reflections of Grace Foundation was formed that year by Grace's parents, Brian and Tamara Ekis, to raise money to offer support to families going through similar situations. Grace participated in the first race in 2007.

Norwin High School will host the sixth annual Race For Grace on Saturday. Opening activities start at 7 a.m. and the race begins at 9.

“We've seen it grow enormously over the past six years,” said race director Ashley Metz Leax. “I expect it to be another memorable day, a day for us to remember Grace and honor her legacy. It gets emotional and tough to talk without crying. This is our largest fundraiser of the year.”

The foundation has been able to give $159,000 across 26 states directly to 109 families of children fighting brain cancer. In addition, $105,000 has been donated/pledged toward research grants to find a cure and to raise awareness for pediatric brain cancers.

“I do think it's humbling to know she has touched so many lives and continues to touch people,” Tamara Ekis said. “I think (helping families) becomes our main driving force at this point. I think that you have a hope for what it can become. I think we are still surprised at the continuing support that we get.”

“We never want to be in a situation where a family comes to us needing financial support, and fills out our grant application, and for us to have to say, ‘No. Sorry, we don't have enough funding to help you,'” Leax said. “We have never turned a family down, and we're very blessed that we have been able to help so many. That is our goal, to be able to help families in this same situation and to never have to turn them away.”

Last year's race raised approximately $101,000 and attracted an estimated 2,900 people.

Leax said she hopes to exceed those numbers this year, and emotion pours out of the family and volunteers as race day draws closer.

“I think that the event days don't necessarily become easy,” Tamara Ekis said.

“I would much rather trade all of this if (Grace) would just be here with us,” said Leax. “That's not what our reality is. Instead, we just try to honor her and give to her and give to others as she so graciously did.”

There are some 1,800 racers already signed up for the event. People who wish to register can do so at Circleville Volunteer Fire Department at 129 Robbins Station Road in North Huntingdon Township today from 5:30-8:30 p.m.

Those who have already registered can pick up their race bags and T-shirts at the fire hall.

Online registration has closed. Participants can sign up on race day from 7-8 a.m.

WTAE TV's Mike Clark returns as emcee. Mikey and Big Bob from 96.1 KISS FM Morning Freak Show will be in attendance.

Registrants can run or walk the 5K or walk the 1 mile course. The 5K run will be timed using state-of-the-art, disposable D-tag chip technology.

After the race, children and families can take part in activities including games, crafts, face and nail paintings, dance performances, Chinese and silent auctions, and charitable hair donations. Majority Rules is set to perform.

Festivities are scheduled to conclude around 1 p.m. following an awards ceremony.

More information about Race For Grace is available online at www.reflectionsofgrace.org, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/reflectionsofgrace and Twitter at www.twitter.com/ReflectsOfGrace.

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or mdivittorio@tribweb.com.

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