Under warm breezes and sunny skies, a record 9,000 people hit the pavement in New Providence to support the life-saving mission of organ and tissue donation in NJ Sharing Network’s fourth-annual 5K Walk and USATF Certified Race.
Teams honored the legacy of donors, or expressed appreciation for a second chance at life. Others offered hope to those still waiting, or remembered those who died before an organ became available.
With names such as Biff’s Gifts, Kristen’s Crusaders and Team Butterfly, each team told a poignant story. But all were connected strongly to the life-saving mission of NJ Sharing Network.
“We are so appreciative to our sponsors, teams, volunteers and attendees who have made this another memorable morning in New Providence,” said Elisse Glennon, executive director of the NJ Sharing Network Foundation. “The enthusiasm for this fundraiser grows each year. And the proceeds we receive provide enormous support for NJ Sharing Network throughout the year, helping us fulfill our mission to save and enhance lives.”
Glennon expects this year’s event also will be a record for fundraising, with a $1 million goal. Final numbers are to be compiled and released July 15. Dominic Kiralyfi, 23, of Summit, was the overall race winner, crossing the finish line in 16:01. Fairfield resident Alexandra Niles, who ran in honor of her mother Betsy Niles, an organ donor, won the women’s category again this year with a time of 18:12. Niles has been the top female finisher at the 5K every year since its inception.
Kate Walker of Iselin attended as a member of Team 360, honoring her brother, Bobby Walker, who died Feb. 3, 2005 and became an organ donor. This is the fourth year of Team 360, which has grown to more than 50 people. The annual fundraiser is the ideal time to reunite with family and friends to remember Walker, as well as spend time with the two men who received his heart and kidneys.
“Our extended family here continues to grow, with babies and weddings,” Walker said. “We keep the spirit of my brother alive and we raise money to keep others alive.We wanted to be here today because it’s such a great cause, and because we wanted to remember Bobby’s legacy.”
Team Kevin Gilbert honors the legacy of Kevin Gilbert, who died at the age of 16. More than 100 friends, family and neighbors from Hunterdon County participated to reflect the kindness and generosity of Gilbert.
“Kevin was a humble kid who was everyone’s friend and this is a great thing to do in his memory. He always wanted to help others and that is why we are here today,” said Bev Yelpo, a member of Team Kevin Gilbert.
Corporate sponsors included nearly 50 businesses supporting the mission. The presenting sponsor was Pfizer.
"At Pfizer, our mission is to help people live longer, healthier lives. Our mission aligns perfectly with the mission of NJ Sharing Network and we are proud that we have been part of the 5K since the beginning,” said Frank D’Amelio, Pfizer’s Chief Financial Officer.
Nearly 5,000 people in New Jersey currently are awaiting life-saving organs. Each day 18 people in the nation die while waiting for an organ.
Dedicated runners ran in the USATF-certified race while others walked — some pushing strollers or holding the hands of children carrying blue and green pom poms. Many of the teams made individual T-shirts that highlighted their stories.
Mike Nazmy of Union said he participated to honor the donors who each gave him a liver, one in 2005 and again in 2006.
“I am here to honor my donors, the skilled doctors at University Hospital in Newark, my family and the Lord, who is stitching this all together to make so many miracles,” he said.
Another team honored Dr. Mike McAllister, who died in a surfing accident in 2009 at the Jersey Shore. He was 56. His wife, Rosa, said she traveled from Hawaii to participate in the 5K to honor her husband’s legacy and to show her thanks to NJ Sharing Network, which supported her through this difficult time of her life.
“I am here at the 5K today to say that life goes on and it is important to remember that, and also to give to others while always holding dear to our memories,” she said.
Al Lango Jr., of Fair Lawn, participated to express his thanks for both a heart and a kidney.
“I am working again instead of being on disability. I volunteer to give back,” he said. His sister gave him a kidney 10 years ago and in a separate operation he received a heart from a teenaged donor from Ohio.
“The message we promote is simple: You can register to become an organ donor and maybe you can save someone’s life,’ he said.
NJ Sharing Network’s 5K Walk/Race is presented by Pfizer, and hosted in cooperation with the New Providence Business Community. Other corporate partners include: ShopRite Village Supermarkets, Wiss & Company, LLP, Barnabas Health, Novartis, Community Tissue Services, Document Solutions, JFK Medical Center, Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation, NJ Business Travel Association, Ogilvy CommonHealth, PNC Wealth Management, Wells Fargo, Adams Gutierrez & Lattiboudere, LLC, CarePoint Health, Eastwick College and the HoHokus Schools, Genetech, Lourdes Health System, Provident Bank Foundation, Saenz Construction, Taylor Rental – Berkeley Heights, Trinitas Regional Medical Center, International Institute for the Advancement of Medicine, Boomer Esiason Foundation, LifeCell, Hampshire Real Estate Companies, Jaffe Communications and Campbell Health Media, Loran Associates, Inc., Meridian Health, NJ Association of School Resource Officers, Quest Diagnostics, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Saenz Contractors, Sanford Brown Institute, The Condon Family, The Geffner Family, Investors Bank, The Valley Hospital, University Hospital Liver Center, William H. Connolly & Co. LLC, and McCabe Ambulance and EMS. In addition to The Star Ledger, our media partners include Z100, KTU 103.5 FM and Comcast Cable.
To make a financial contribution to the 5K Walk/Race, visit www.NJSharingNetwork.org. You can also visit the website or call 1-800-742-7365 to learn more about organ and tissue donation and register as an organ and tissue donor.