Before he runs his annual 5K, UMW junior Kyle Pfohl will hydrate and stretch, just like he’s done for the past several years. This time, though, one thing will be missing – the reason the race exists to begin with, his mother.
Annette Pfohl passed away last November after a decade-plus battle with breast cancer. But long before that, Kyle, a cross country runner, just like she was, had established an event to honor her fight. He was still in high school when he started the Battling Cancer Race, the first to exclusively benefit oncology patients in the Fredericksburg area.
In its sixth year, the Father’s Day 5K event has raised tens of thousands of dollars. Now, Pfohl, a transfer student who finished his first year at Mary Washington, hopes his new school – and the tight-knit community that comes with it – will take his fundraising efforts to the finish line.
“One of the biggest things my mom said is ‘never give up’ and ‘never let cancer run your life, you have to be in charge of it,’ ” said Pfohl, a Fredericksburg native who, at UMW, majors in communications and digital studies, and runs track and cross country.
Running was a bond shared by the two, who liked to talk about how the activity can bring about change “one step at a time.” And it did. Less than a week before the biggest race of his life – the NCAA Southeast Regional meet – she passed away.
“In the back of my mind, I was thinking about it … and it was hard to concentrate,” said Pfohl, who pushed through his grief to make the trip to Rome, Georgia, with his UMW cross country teammates. “I literally broke down after the race because I knew I could have done better, but under the circumstances, I think my mom would’ve been proud.”
Kyle was just 10 years old in 2005, when his mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that began in one breast and reappeared throughout her body. During her decade-plus battle with the disease, she endured chemotherapy, radiation and multiple surgeries but kept coming to work, day after day, teaching fifth grade in Woodbridge, Virginia.
“I found Annette to be one of the most courageous women I have ever met,” said volunteer UMW cross country coach Chris Sloane, who’s been Pfohl’s personal coach since 2015. “Her strength and resilience pass down to Kyle.”
Launched in 2012, with the help of Pfohl’s father and older brother, the Battling Cancer Race raised more than $14,000 in its first year for the Mary Washington Healthcare Regional Cancer Center. The event has continued to grow, attracting hundreds of runners, vendors and advertisers, and raising more than $84,000 to date.
“The Fredericksburg cancer center is huge and people need to know you can get treated here,” Pfohl said. “You don’t have to fight the traffic to D.C. or Richmond. You can stay home.”
In the future, he plans to add a pre-event fair-type expo, with food vendors and health care professionals onsite. The family would like to create its own nonprofit to benefit cancer treatment in Fredericksburg. And, with the help of his new UMW family, Pfohl hopes to top $100,000 this year.
“Mary Washington is always big about building community, and I want to use this race to give back and represent the UMW community while helping the local area,” he said. “As my mom put it, ‘never giving up hope is what makes life move on.’ ”
Held on Father’s Day, the Battling Cancer Race is scheduled this year for Sunday, June 18. It begins and ends at the Carl D. Silver Health Center/Moss Free Clinic parking lot in Fredericksburg. Visit battlingcancerrace.com for more information.