“I lost my father to lung cancer about two weeks before I started pharmacy school. That had quite an impact on me. When I was out running one time, I was missing him. I just wanted to pick up the phone and call my father.
“He was a great father. He was a schoolteacher and became a school principal at a grade school in Bellingham. He was a very giving guy. He enjoyed contributing to the lives of children on that level and enjoyed the life of an educator.
“I got kind of upset with myself, and I thought, ‘This is ridiculous. Why don’t I turn this into something positive?’
“I thought of doing an American Cancer Society charity run. But one of the things I hadn’t heard anybody do was from border to border—across the entire state of Washington. Wouldn’t that be exciting?
“We stood in a big circle (at the start of the race), hand-in-hand. It was a powerful moment. It was 80 people—70 runners and some support folks. This is brand new, nobody knows what they’re doing, and they’re all looking at me like, ‘I hope you know what you’re doing.’ That was a very exciting moment.
“You don’t really have a chance to reflect on it until it’s all over. I was too engaged trying to manage the pack through the whole three-day process, so I didn’t get a chance to assess how I was feeling until it was over. It was also hard running—it was a lot of miles to cover—but at the same time, it was a lot of fun.
“Everybody felt pretty charged because it was for a good cause. It was a sense of mission: ‘We’re all together, here’s the goal, we gotta get through this.’
“It was like my prayers had been answered. This was really exciting, but what went through my heart was, ‘Thank you, God. We did this.’ My mom was there. This was especially meaningful to her. She was there to welcome us with my brother and his band. And a number of my relatives were there to support the memory of my father. It was a powerful moment.”
Since the first relay in 1995, School of Pharmacy students have raised more than $125,000 for the American Cancer Society. And the event remains an annual tradition.
“To my excitement, each year, a new round of students comes in and picks up where the last ones left off.
“I was deeply flattered when, 10 years ago, the students offered to change the name of the event and call it the Larry Gallaher Memorial Run. But it needs to be something that the School of Pharmacy or the students support on an individual level, so they can run with someone in their own heart or their own mind.”
Matt Wastradowski is a Communications & Media Editor for the UW Alumni Association’s marketing communications team.