Runners race to honor teen's wish, memory

Girl who died of leukemia inspires others to raise funds for cure

June 23, 2006|By ALIA MALIK | ALIA MALIK,SUN REPORTER

Kati Fisher's one wish started small. The 11-year-old girl from Glen Burnie asked the Make-A-Wish Foundation to send her to the 2001 Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in San Diego, where she could watch a group from the Annapolis area run to raise money for people like her - diagnosed with leukemia.

After that, Kati's dreams were bigger than just watching the race. She decided she wanted to run it, all 26.2 miles, one day.

"I can do this," she told her father. She even set a date: the San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon on June 4, 2006. By then she would be 16, the minimum age required to run.

On March 31, 2004, at 14, Kati died. But that didn't stop her father and 68 other Maryland runners from completing the marathon and raising more than $330,000 in her honor.

The runners make up the Maryland chapter of Team in Training, a program run by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society that prepares people of all athletic abilities to complete a marathon, 100-mile bike ride or triathlon. In return for professional training and travel to endurance events across the country, participants raise money to fund research and patient services for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma.

Since the program's inception in 1988, more than 300,000 participants nationwide have raised more than $660 million for the society, says Jessica Suriano, campaign director for Team in Training's Maryland chapter.

Each training group has an "honored teammate," usually a child with blood cancer, to serve as an inspiration to raise money. Kati was the Annapolis-area group's honored teammate, but she was a different kind of symbol.

"After San Diego [in 2001], there was hardly ever a week we weren't at the trail," says Kati's father, Rick Fisher, 45.

Kati would bake and make crafts for her team, then get up at 6:30 a.m. every Saturday to cheer it on as it trained on the Baltimore & Annapolis Trail, which runs from Glen Burnie to Arnold.

During this time, she also struck up a close friendship with figure skater Kimmie Meissner of Bel Air, who this year finished sixth in the Olympics. Meissner is now helping sell plastic bracelets to raise money for care packages for young cancer patients.

A memorial garden for Kati will grace the trail's one-mile mark, where the Annapolis team's runs begin and end. The centerpiece is a boulder with a mold of Kati's hand.

"Kati was always there to slap us high-five when we finished our run, and we can still do that because she'll still be there," says Kathy Williams, an Annapolis resident and 2006 marathon runner who helped found Friends of Kati, a small group of Team in Training members dedicated to keeping Kati's spirit alive.

Juggling work and two children, Williams stepped away from Team in Training in fall 2003, but came back for the June 4 marathon.

"I think I always knew that I would run San Diego '06," Williams says. "I thought I would be running it with Kati rather than in memory of her."

Kati was active in Team and Training, attending recruitment meetings and speaking at events, says her father. She was motivated to find a cure not for herself, but for others who were affected by the same disease.

"We're running for her, but she was part of it for somebody else, for everybody else," says Amy Cruice of Baltimore. "And that was really obvious, that she was part of Team in Training not because she had leukemia, but because of so many others, people and children."

Before Kati died, she wrote her father a note asking him to take care of her little sister Sara "and please keep fighting to find a cure," Rick Fisher remembers.

"I have to keep going," he says. "I was asked to by an angel."

alia.malik@baltsun.com

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