When Dave Gesch reached the finish line of the Run Because You Can fundraiser Sunday, his body was shaking. His knees were wobbly. And the sweat poured.
But he had accomplished what he set out to do: He carried his fragile 12-year-old son, Dawson, on his back for the 5K run. That was 3.2 miles with no training. In the end, it put him in agony.
It is, perhaps, fitting that the run’s sponsoring organization — Runnin’ for Rhett — raised an estimated $30,000 for youth-fitness programs for schools in the Sacramento area — an endeavor launched by Beth and Randy Seevers in 2007 to honor their son, Rhett, who died eight years ago at age 7.
Randy Seevers said in an interview that walking and running became his wife’s physical salvation as she grieved over the loss of their son, who suffered from cerebral palsy.
“A girlfriend got her started running,” Seevers said. “She ended up running a half-marathon on the first anniversary of Rhett’s death. She ran up to me at the end of that and said, ‘We all have to run. We have to run for Rhett.’”
Runnin’ for Rhett was formed as a nonprofit foundation that provides scholarships to Sacramento County college students pursuing special-education credentials as well as fitness training for schools.
The Seeverses — Randy is the organization’s executive director — tell their son’s story to area schools. Students, in turn, are quickly engaged.
This year, the foundation’s grant-funded training is going to 24 schools.
“We want them to do what Rhett couldn’t,” Seevers said, “to get off the couch and run. They become very excited, and the parents give them permission to train with us over a five-week period.”
Sunday’s events — the quarter-mile run for the smallest of runners and the 5K and 10K runs for the more ambitious — began in Crocker Park at Second and O streets at 8 a.m. and drew about 2,000 registrants — 600 adults and 1,400 children, including roughly 200 from Galt elementary schools, which send a contigent every year.
Additionally, a Marengo Ranch parent secured a donation of $250 from Pacific Coast Producers of Lodi for the Runnin’ For Rhett Foundation to allow more students to participate in the program. The school sent four adults, including Geoffrey Jumper, who is also a foundation board member.
“I truly feel that we need to promote youth fitness,” he said. “I see more and more students come to school overweight and eating terribly. We have students who can’t even run across the playground without being totally out of breath.”
Jumper himself grew up as the short chubby boy who wasn’t very physically fit, he said.
“Yes, I participated in youth baseball, but that was it. I don’t want our students to feel fat and unhealthy like I did,” he said. “I want to give as many children the opportunity to run, play and feel good about their accomplishment as possible. Almost everyone can walk or run.”
Gesch, the runner with son Dawson aboard, said the group’s visit to Dawson’s school, Carroll Elementary in Elk Grove, galvanized the boy, who suffers with a range of heart, lung and kidney ailments and has limited stamina.
Gesch worried about Dawson’s tolerance for being hauled on his back for the 5K distance. He feared the constant jostling and stress of holding on would take a toll.
Gesch would walk, he said, not run.
His wife, Jill, and their daughter, McKenna, 10, were there to cheer on the duo.
Dawson always shows strength, courage and mental fortitude “to the degree I repeatedly find myself amazed at the God-given character born in us all,” the father told The Bee a few days before the race.
After the race, dawson was unfazed. asked what he liked best, he said: “The whole thing was fun.”
It was more challenging for his father.
“It was really hard for 15 to 20 minutes,” Dave Gesch said. His legs began to hurt and wobble. Next, his shoulders, both dislocated in past years, started to hurt.
Throughout, Dawson kept slipping down his back. Gesch said that he was reluctant to put his son down, fearing he might not be able to pick him up again.
He finished triumphant, but he said it was with emotional and physical exhaustion.
And he ended wiser.
“I should have trained,” Gesch said after his finish.
News-Sentinel staff writer Jennifer Bonnett contributed to this report.