On Saturday morning, more than 300 runners will bring that common trait to the starting line with the knowledge that they do so honoring Rome teen Jamie Hughes, who lived life to the fullest and — after waging a courageous battle with cancer — left a life-lesson legacy to learn from, at the #JamieStrong Rome Half Marathon and 5K that starts and ends at State Mutual Stadium.
“With Jamie, it was about living life to the fullest,” Chrissy Hughes, Jamie’s mother, said about her son, who passed away in September following a year-long fight with osteosarcoma, a very rare but aggressive bone cancer that attacks children during their growth spurts.
“He made a lot of difference in a lot of people’s lives,” she said. “He was very, very strong.”
The youngest of three children, Jamie let it be known early in life that he opened his mind, heart and body to everything in life, quickly emerging as a true Renaissance individual who exhibited a love for academics, music, drama, art and especially athletics.
“He was a very old soul and had a good sense of self,” Chrissy explained, adding that Jamie — who was embraced by everyone he met — was very mature for his age. As a second grader at St. Mary’s School in Rome, Jamie served notice that running was also in his athletic repertoire when he competed in his first distance race, the annual Rome Leprechaun-a-thon 5K, finishing ahead of his mom and his sister and brother, Shannon and Conor.
“He took off on his own and finished well ahead of all of us,” Chrissy recalled about the race. “He loved it but he thought he could have had a better time if he hadn’t had to stop a few times to tie his shoelaces.”
In the summer of 2017, Jamie was looking forward to starting his 8th grade year at St. Mary’s, the school that he attended since he was a preschooler.
He had joined the cross country team, was Beta Club president for a second consecutive year, played Arsenal Soccer through the YMCA, playing his guitar and hanging out with friends. But it was in August of 2017 that Jamie and his family learned that their lives were about to change.
After complaining about a sore knee earlier in the summer — Chrissy attributed it to growing pains teens have — Jamie got hit in the knee while playing football on the playground at school with his friends, requiring a trip to the doctor’s office where x-rays revealed a shadow near the knee.
“Then came the explanation of what the doctor thought this spot might be,” Chrissy said, “without using the dreaded ‘C’ word, and stated this could be very serious and is very aggressive. Jamie and I both knew what he was talking about. Stunned, confused and in shock, we both left in tears.”
The next day, following a bone scan, an MRI and an appointment to meet with an orthopedic specialist at Emory in Atlanta, an office biopsy confirmed every family’s worst nightmare, Jamie had cancer.
“I had never heard of it.” Chrissy said about learning that osteosarcoma had attacked Jamie’s bones. “It’s so rare that one of the doctors said you had a better chance of winning the lottery than being diagnosed with this disease.”
Still, while the dark news changed the entire family, it also brought them closer together, with Jamie serving as the compass for Chrissy, his dad Tom and his brother and sister, showing them, their friends and an entire community how to be strong and faithful during what would become a year-long fight that involved several surgeries, blood transfusions, chemotherapy, ER visits and numerous trips back and forth to Scottish Rite in Atlanta.
Through it all, Jamie refused to surrender.
Instead, he held the high ground until the end game, focusing on the things he loved — his family, his friends, his beloved Notre Dame Irish and New York Yankees — as well as his strong faith in God that became even stronger thanks to a special bond he formed with the Rev. Valery Akoh, the Parochial Vicar at St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
“He really didn’t like being in the limelight because of his cancer,” Chrissy said, noting a scholarship fund in Jamie’s name has been established at St. Mary’s School. “He always kept his spirits high. He was independent all the way to the end.”
Jamie’s parents, brother and sister are all running this weekend. So will a lot his friends, classmates, teachers and others who crossed paths with him or his family. And in the hearts of all of them, so will Jamie.
Presented by Redmond Regional, the Rome Half Marathon, Half Relay and 5k will all begin and end at State Mutual Stadium on Saturday, with the 5k starting at 8 a.m. and the Half Marathon and Relay starting at 8:05. Race-day registration begins at 7 a.m.
For more information on the #jamiestrong Rome Half Marathon, Half Relay and 5k, go to www.romehalf.com or contact GoGo Running at The Shoe Box at 706-291-0752.