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Race For Grace planned for Saturday at Norwin High School

| Thursday, March 27, 2014, 1:26 a.m.

Norwin area residents on Saturday again will celebrate the life of Grace Elizabeth Ekis, a 5-year-old girl succumbed by pediatric brain cancer in 2008.

“We are overwhelmed by the continued support we have received from not only our community, but from the Pittsburgh region,” Grace's mother, Tamara Ekis, said. “It's truly amazing how the Race For Grace continues to grow each year in both the number of participants and money raised.”

It's called “Race For Grace,” but far more happens than the running and walking set for 9 a.m. on the Knights Stadium track at Norwin High School.

“After the race we have a whole plethora of events and entertainment,” said Ashley Metz-Leax, who has been race director for six of the seven “Races.”

Much of that is focused on the children, including games, crafts, balloon arts, face painting, magicians and other entertainers in a variety of costumes.

“We have live dance performances because Grace loved dance,” Metz-Leax said. “We have several dance groups who come and perform throughout the day.”

It's all to benefit the Reflections of Grace Foundation founded by Grace's parents, Tamara and Brian Ekis. It has given $197,000 directly to 127 families of children battling brain cancer.

“Through our family grants, we have been able to ease some of the financial hardships families face when they have to give up work to care for their sick child,” Tamara Ekis said.

In addition, the foundation has given $165,000 toward research grants in the bid to find a cure for and raise awareness about pediatric brain cancers.

The day begins with the racing. Registration is set for 7 a.m., followed by a 5K run, a 5K walk and a one-mile walk.

“That appeals to different participants,” the race director said. “Some of them are serious runners. Some of the less-serious runners like that they can just walk it or bring their families.”

A concession stand offers breakfast and lunch items and a bake sale is planned, along with Chinese and silent auctions. A brief celebration will be capped by an awards ceremony shortly before 1 p.m.

“We have a charitable hair donation where people will donate their hair,” Metz-Leax said. “I myself am doing it again for the fourth time. We feel it is important for the children. While Grace did not lose all of her hair, she lost some of it because of the chemotherapy.”

A pediatric cancer awareness booth will be available to explain what it was that claimed Grace two months after the first “Race,” in December 2007 at Woodland Hills High School.

“I grew up in the Woodland Hills community and that is where the Ekis family lived (before moving to North Huntingdon Township),” Metz-Leax said. “We wanted to hold this (first race) in spring 2008, however we knew that time was not on our side.”

WTAE-4 news anchor Mike Clark will be master of ceremonies for Saturday's event, while Mikey and Big Bob from the WKST-96.1 Morning Freak Show will participate in the race and socialize with the runners and walkers.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or