Redmond native honors father, raises money for cancer with new Derby Days event

For 70 years, the Derby Days festival has brought bike races, parades and entertainment to the Redmond community. This year, Derby Days will offer a new outlet for fun and recreation, the Derby Dash 5K run/walk for both competitive and non-competitive participants. Registered runners or walkers will simultaneously help to "outrun pancreatic cancer" during this fundraising event.

Johnny McCormick

For 70 years, the Derby Days festival has brought bike races, parades and entertainment to the Redmond community.

This year, Derby Days will offer a new outlet for fun and recreation, the Derby Dash 5K run/walk for both competitive and non-competitive participants. Registered runners or walkers will simultaneously help to “outrun pancreatic cancer” during this fundraising event.

Redmond native and recent Stanford University graduate John “Johnny” Kent McCormick Jr. organized the Derby Dash 5K, set for Sunday, July 11, to honor his late father, Dr. John Kent McCormick.

Dr. McCormick, an orthopedic surgeon who practiced in Redmond for more than 20 years, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer around Thanksgiving 2006 and lost his battle with the disease almost exactly one year later.

The participant fee for the Derby Dash is $25. One hundred percent of net proceeds will benefit the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN), devoted to advancing research, supporting patients and creating hope for people affected by this insidious and deadly disease.

Dr. McCormick was 56 when he passed away, leaving behind a heartbroken wife, four children and many, many friends, according to Johnny.

“More than just a good doctor, he was a very loving, caring person,” Johnny said.

And before his diagnosis of cancer, his dad was a very active man, “a really athletic guy who played football and rugby at Stanford, loved golf and running,” Johnny noted.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. It is estimated that this year, 43,140 people will be diagnosed with this disease in this country alone. It is one of the few types of cancer for which the survival rate has not improved substantially over the past 30 years.

Pancreatic cancer often has only vague symptoms that could be associated with many other medical conditions. It’s a leading cause of cancer death largely because there are no detection tools to diagnose the disease in its early stages, when surgical removal of the tumor is still possible.

In Dr. McCormick’s case, “it was blind luck we discovered it, because it lurks until the average patient has only about two to three months to live,” said Johnny.

His dad had undergone a scan to look for kidney stones when the tumor on his pancreas was spotted.

“Aside from the regular aches and pains of a 55-year-old guy, who’d had two or three kidney stones, he really was going about his day-to-day existence,” Johnny said.

The tumor was initially deemed inoperable because of its proximity to blood vessels. After he’d seen a couple of specialists, Dr. McCormick had some hope that chemotherapy and radiation might be able to shrink the tumor and that surgery then might be feasible.

“In the beginning, the chemo had minor side effects,” said Johnny, “but that was the prelude to daily chemo and radiation in the fall of 2007. It was very aggressive, throwing out all the reserves. Every time I came home from college, I saw huge physical changes such as weight loss and then he was wearing a full-time stent for the chemo. By Thanksgiving, he was in very poor shape. The writing was on the wall.”

Becoming tearful, Johnny quietly recalled, “That Thanksgiving, he was able to be at the table with us and nibble on a few things. And the next day, he couldn’t. That Saturday after Thanksgiving, he was gone.”

Johnny said that planning the Derby Dash 5K has been a way to channel his family’s grief into something that would not just commemorate his dad but bring friends and neighbors together in a way that his dad would have loved — being active and enjoying the great outdoors here in Redmond.

A McCormick family friend, Ben Wobker of Redmond Physical Therapy, suggested, “There’s never been a 5K event at Derby Days, there might be a niche for that,” said Johnny. “And my cousin had organized a 5K in memory of his brother who was killed in Iraq. … I liked the idea of having an active component to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer. There’s such an impulse for people to want to do good, to help others. All people need is a rallying point to get around a cause and I’m hoping this will be that kind of rallying point.”

Johnny brought his idea to Redmond Mayor John Marchione, who put him in touch with the city’s events administrator, Lisa Rhodes.

“I submitted a formal proposal, worked through the machinery there and went through the long process of approval to include this as a Derby Days-sanctioned event,” Johnny said. “We’re starting with a baseline goal, a pool of family, friends and community members, hoping for at least 250 participants, but are equipped for up to 500.”

The dash will take place on the paved and beautifully landscaped Sammamish River Trail near Redmond Town Center and Redmond City Hall. A professional, USATF-certified timing company will be on hand to record official finish times for those who want to race, but another wave of non-competitive participants will be able to jog or walk along the trail at their own pace.

“I want to get the whole gamut — it’s a balancing act, not to intimidate joggers or walkers, but not undersell the event to competitive runners,” Johnny stated.

Online registration for the Derby Dash 5K is preferred, but walk-in registrations will also be taken at 8 a.m. on the day of the dash, Sunday, July 11. The race/walk begins at 9 a.m. No dogs, scooters, bicycles, rollerblades or skateboards will be allowed.

For registration and other information, visit www.RedmondDash.com, e-mail info@redmonddash.com or call (650) 427-0202.

To learn more about Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN), visit www.pancan.org.

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