Some ran to honor those they lost. Others ran to give thanks for a second chance at life.
Nearly 5,000 people, united by their support for organ and tissue donation, gathered Sunday for the Second Annual Share NJ 5K Race to Save Lives through Organ & Tissue Donation. The event, with record turnout, raised more than $560,000 to provide education, outreach and family support.
More than 245 teams participated, most connected through the story of an organ donor or recipient – or someone on the waiting list.
“I am here today because there are no words to thank the person who saved my life and allowed me to continue to be a teacher, a mom, a wife and a friend,” said Maria Feeney, a 39-year-old heart recipient from Morris Plains whose team was called 'Heart & Soul.' “The only obligation to be on my team was to be a registered organ donor. We need to raise awareness.”
“The turnout has been beyond all our expectations,” said Joe Roth, president and chief executive officer of . He said the goal of the 5K was to pay tribute to donors and to celebrate the lives saved through organ donation, as well as to give hope to those still on waiting lists.
“Our mission is to eliminate all deaths on the waiting lists. I am inspired to see so many people out here today supporting that mission,” Roth said.
More than 114,000 people nationwide, and 5,000 people in New Jersey, are awaiting life-saving organ donations.
Each team at Sunday's 5K had a special story. In some instances, teams included both donor families and the recipients of their loved-ones' organs. Kelly Walker of Avenel walked side-by-side with the recipients of her brother's donated heart and kidney. “It was amazing. We all have this sense of connection. It is motivating and inspiring, and keeps us going to see my brother live on through them,” she said. Her brother was Robert Walker Jr. of Avenel.
Bryan Mueller, a 25-year-old from New Milford, received one of Robert Walker's kidneys.
“It is an honor to know this family and to have walked together with them today,” Mueller said. “They have become like family to me. I had end-stage renal failure at 17-years-old. I would not be here today if I did not receive a kidney.”
Nancie Rothman of Cranford and her daughter, Emma, came to honor the donor family whose generosity gave the 13-year-old girl a second chance at life. Emma received a donor heart more than a year ago, and today she said she is “just an average kid” who loves to hang out with her friends and listen to the pop sensation “The New Directions.”
“My daughter is doing very, very well,” the mother said. “We support everything NJ Sharing Network is doing and wanted to be here today to show our support.”
During Emma's illness the family became friendly with the Prince family of North Caldwell. Max Prince's Bar Mitzvah project this year raised money for the race and to support his nine-year-old brother, Sam, who received a heart transplant. Max said his commitment to organ donation will not end with his Bar Mitzvah but will continue throughout his life.
Before the race, Max hugged Sam, who said, “I'm here because of my new heart.”
A 5K Certified Race began early in the morning. The top male runner was Steven Monteleone of Berkeley Heights, who finished at 16:48.36. The top female was Janel Parker of Freehold, who finished at 18:45.37.
A walk followed and a Sprout Sprint ended the day, which included refreshments as well as motivation and music from New York City radio personalities Matt Bosso from WKTU (103.5 FM) and Z100’s Greg T.
The teams were both large and small. One of the largest was Team Kevin Gilbert, with more than 130 participants, who all wore red T-shirts that remembered the high school honor student and athlete in Whitehouse Station who died in a car accident. His heart, liver, kidneys, lung and corneas were donated to five people.
“We are here today to pay tribute to Kevin and to support the five recipients,” said Team Leader Jamie Siegrist of Bergen County. A high school health education teacher, she said she has incorporated Kevin's story in her classes.
“This is such an important cause,” she said.
The Share NJ 5K was presented by Pfizer and hosted in conjunction with the New Providence Business and Professional Association.
Other event sponsors included: Barnabas Health, LifeCell Corporation, Wells Fargo Bank, NA, Genentech, a member of Roche Group, Brinton Eaton, William H. Connolly & Co., LLC, PNC Wealth Management, Saul Ewing LLP, Wiss & Company, LLP, ShopRite (Village Supermarkets), Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation, Document Solutions, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Hackensack University Medical Center, Investors Bank, The Hampshire Companies, Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide, ASA Apple, Novartis, Mark & Helen Reagan, MagnetMailers.com, LLC, Jeffrey Sobel Consulting, Adams Stern Gutierrez & Lattiboudere, LLC, CJS Violations Services, Overlook Medical Center, Townley Sweeping Service, Ethicon, International Institute for the Advancement of Medicine, and Meridian Health.