The Three Lakes Trail is a rugged 10.1-mile trail that loops around two lakes, and one former lake, in the wilderness of the Morgan Monroe State Forest.

Jack Poynter and his mother, Denise Poynter, will have to traverse numerous large, long hills and deal with switchbacks just to climb the rises as they attempt to run the trail. Rocks, roots and tree branches will provide natural obstacles.

That doesn’t even begin to take into account the fatigue that will set in over the 36 hours of activity.

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But they’ve experienced worse. Jack Poynter and his family have gone through the hell that is cancer treatment, and they’ll be motivated by a desire to help others who have to deal with the disease.

“It’s constant pain at a certain point; it becomes a mental thing,” Denise Poynter said. “But then you think about these kids who are going through chemotherapy and all this, they’re facing pain too. Surely I can withstand a little bit of pain to raise some awareness for childhood cancer.”

Seventeen years after being diagnosed with tumors around his spine and kidneys, Jack Poynter is cancer-free and enjoying the start of his senior year of high school. To celebrate his recovery and to help raise money for the Riley Children’s Foundation, they’ve created the JACKRun, where they’ll push themselves to run for 36 straight hours.

Their hope is that their effort draws attention to the work that the Riley Children’s Foundation works, as well as getting people to think about childhood cancer.

“It’s going to be a lot of running, but the cause is good,” Jack Poynter said. “It’s a chance to give back what they gave to me — a small portion, at least.”

When he was born in 2000, Jack Poynter’s shock of bright red hair and pronounced dimples stood out to his parents, Denise and Todd Poynter.

But only a few months after his birth, Denise Poynter started to notice small differences that her previous children never had. He had more trouble breathing. Small nodules — one on his neck that felt like a pea under the skin — appeared on different places of his body.

Their pediatrician referred the family to a surgeon at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital to have the nodules looked at. An ultrasound revealed that Jack Poynter has neuroblastoma. He was 7 months old.

“Immediately, they knew what it was. We went to Riley that night to start chemotherapy,” Denise Poynter said.

Neuroblastoma forms in the cells around the spine and other parts of the nervous system in the body. The disease is the most common cancer found in infants younger than 1 year old, and about 700 new cases are reported each year.

The tumor had wrapped itself around Jack Poynter’s kidneys, and was too large to operate on. Dr. Jeffrey Goldman, his oncologist at Riley Hospital, recommended chemotherapy to try to decrease the size of the stage IV cancer.

He went through four rounds of intense chemotherapy, which was successful in shrinking the size of the tumor to the point where surgeons could remove it.

That was the most frightening period of their lives, Denise Poynter said. But while the torturous chemotherapy infusion and endless tests are burned into her memory, she also remembers the care that the Riley Hospital staff took with Jack and the entire family.

Volunteers had made blankets for the babies receiving treatment at the hospital to give them some comfort. Nurses and staff members became like extended family, remembering your names and the details of your lives, Denise Poynter said.

“Living here, we’re very fortunate. People come from all over to go to Riley,” she Poynter said. “You don’t realize until you have a child who’s there with some kind of life-threatening illness, but they’re just top notch.”

Jack Poynter finished his treatment by the time he was 2 years old, and though he still regularly sees a doctor at Riley Hospital, his health has been exemplary since then.

He plays football and basketball, and has his own landscaping business with his siblings, Brothers Lawn Care. He plays chess, and loves to read.

A senior at Greenwood Bible Baptist School, he is hoping to study to be an engineer. That fact that he has beaten cancer and emerged as a healthy young adult is something that Jack thinks about regularly.

With September being Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, he and his mother felt that it would be special to do something to raise awareness of the disease.

At the same time, they could help support Riley Children’s Foundation, giving back for all that the hospital did for their family.

“We thought it would be really significant to do something in September. We have six kids, and who would have thought that one of our children would have cancer?” Denise Poynter said.

The Poynters have worked with Donna Fischer, the special projects coordinator for the Riley Children’s Foundation, who encouraged them to put something together.

The Riley Children’s Foundation is the fundraising arm for Riley Hospital for Children. Donations help fund everything from important pediatric research to family support programs to patient care.

The hospital couldn’t fulfill its own mission without the foundation, said Laura Buckner, senior communications officer for the foundation. And the foundation could not do its work without individual donors such as the Poynters.

“A majority of the money raised for the Riley Children’s Foundation is through individual donors, people like this family, out there raising money and soliciting donations,” Buckner said. “The thought is that big corporate funding supports the foundation, and we do get some of that. But the people who donate $50, $20, whatever they can, they are so important because they’re the bulk of our donations.”

Brainstorming what their fundraiser could be, the Poynters gravitated towards a running event.

Running is a central part of the family, Denise Poynter said. She has completed dozens of different races, and has started doing 100-mile ultramarathons. Jack Poynter is an avid runner too, and the two of them have done the Monumental Marathon in Indianapolis and the Mill Race Marathon in Columbus.

While one of their initial ideas was running north to south across the state, the Poynters eventually settled on a set distance looping through one of south-central Indiana’s most beautiful natural areas.

“A couple of people in the running community suggested we should do it on a trail and just loop around,” Denise Poynter said. “I’m more a trail runner now, and I knew I could at least do 100 miles, since I’ve done it before. That’s what inspired us to do something local.”

The goal is to run for 36 straight hours, starting at 6 a.m. Sept. 22 and lasting until 6 p.m. Sept. 23. With their experience, neither Denise Poynter nor Jack Poynter are doing any special training for the run.

Denise Poynter plans to run the entire time, and Jack Poynter will run a majority of that time. Other people have committed to hiking or jogging along the route as well, and those who don’t will be cheering them on along the trail.

Supporters have been pledging money for every mile they complete, with all of the proceeds going to WHAT at the Riley Children’s Foundation.

Their goal in doing the run is to raise $3,000, and at this point, nearly half of that has been pledged.

“There are a lot of kids who have to go to Riley, and maybe they don’t have insurance,” Denise Poynter said. “We wanted to do something, especially during Jack’s senior year, to help raise awareness, give back to Riley and celebrate the fact that it’s been 15 years without any problems.”

At a glance

JACKRun

What: A fundraising effort by Center Grove area resident Jack Poynter and his mother, Denise Poynter. The event will support the Riley Children’s Foundation. Jack Poynter was diagnosed with cancer at 7 months old and was treated at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.

How will it work?: Jack and Denise Poynter plan to run for 36 hours on a trail at Morgan Monroe State Forest. Supporters have been pledging money for their efforts, as well as giving donations in advance of the run.

When: Starting at 6 a.m. Sept. 22 and ending at 6 p.m. Sept. 23.

Where: The Three Lakes Trail in Morgan Monroe State Forest

How to help: To make a donation, go to http://donate.rileykids.org/site/TR?px=1295048&fr_id=2080&pg=personal

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.