Some of my favorite races have taken place on trails that cut through the desert scrub of West Texas, events during which I’ve also tripped and shredded my knees and stabbed my butt with cactus needles during a mid-race pee break.
Now there’s a new adventure to add the trail running calendar – the Devils River Run for Hope.
The first-time event, scheduled for Saturday, April 24, begins on the banks of the Devils River, then follows gravel roads through the Devils River State Natural Area and finishes at nearby McKenna Ranch. Runners can choose from a marathon or half-marathon distance, and should expect rugged, undulating desert terrain, with views of nearby hills and canyons.
“It’s intense,” says assistant race director Jessica Hester. “It’s going to take them gradually uphill the majority of the marathon.”
Race entry will be capped at 70 athletes, who must wear masks except while they are running. The start will be staged, with groups of nine heading out every 2 minutes. A post-race party will include a raffle and auction, live music, and barbecue.
The draw of this race, besides my love of the river and its surrounding terrain, is tied to the race organizers.
I met Beau Hester, superintendent of the Del Norte Unit of the Devils River State Natural Area, five years ago, during a visit to the remote park, located about 200 miles west of Austin between Rock Springs and Del Rio. He told me then that he and his wife Jessica had lost their 8-year-old daughter Brooke to cancer. This race benefits Brooke’s Blossoming Hope for Childhood Cancer Foundation, a non-profit organization they created in her memory.
“We learned through her fight there was this niche that needed to be filled. We also learned how heavily underfunded pediatric cancer was,” Jessica Hester said. She described her daughter as bubbly and tenacious. “You wouldn’t know she had cancer except she had no hair.”
Brooke lost her hair seven times during her treatment, and helped make flower-adorned headbands for other children going through chemotherapy. Today the Del Rio-based foundation provides headwear for patients and raises money that goes to pediatric cancer research.
Dr. Giselle Sholler, a leading pediatric oncologist and researcher who treated Brooke, plans to fly to Texas from North Carolina to run in the race.
Packet pickup will start at 5:15 a.m. at McKenna Ranch. From there, runners will be shuttled to the race start on the banks of the Devils River at Devils River State Natural Area. (It’s a slightly less than 1-mile walk from the shuttle drop-off to the starting line.) The half marathon course will end at the midway point of the marathon course, and those runners will be shuttled the rest of the way to the McKenna Ranch.
Registration is $127 for the full marathon or $117 for the half. Entry fee for runners who raise $1,000 or more for the non-profit will be waived.
All proceeds will benefit Brooke’s Blossoming Hope for Childhood Cancer Foundation. Half will be used to create care packages containing headwear, capes, crowns and books for cancer patients; the rest will go to pediatric cancer research.
“We really want people to see the community of Del Rio and the beauty of Lower Pecos,” she said. “We know those are things our daughter would have enjoyed.”