Brooks College to run for cause

Courtesy Photo
Ellia Gibson, the only known American case of a rare genetic condition, is the recipient of the generosity of Brooks College runners.

Students training for Bearathon, raising funds for sick child

By Sally Ann Moyer

Eight Brooks Residential College residents will be running the Bearathon in support of Ellia Gibson, a 3-year-old Wacoan girl with a rare genetic condition.

Gibson is the only known case in the United States out of 17 known cases worldwide of a condition that can trigger recurrent and severe episodes of rhabdomyolysis, which is the breakdown of muscle fibers that then enter the bloodstream to potentially harm internal organs.

The project, called “Brooks College Runs for Ellia,” aims to raise money to pay off medical debts the Gibson family has incurred because of Ellia’s condition.

Ellia is the daughter of Brett and Christina Gibson. Brett graduated from George W. Truett Theological Seminary in 2009 and Christina is a current student at the seminary and also works for Baylor’s Spiritual Life office.

A similarly sponsored project for seminary students running the Bearathon this year inspired Kyndall Renfro, a George W. Truett Theological Seminary student and chaplain at Brooks Residential College, to adapt the idea to fit Brooks Residential College.

Renfro is working with Brooks Residential College’s service and ministry committee to raise support for runners.

Each runner has a member of the service and ministry committee in charge of raising his or her support for the Gibson family by advertising through posters and word-of-mouth.

The runner who raises the most money will have an additional $300, provided by the Brooks Residential College faculty, donated to the Gibson family in the runner’s name.

“I really had no idea how well it would take off,” Renfro said, “I just knew raising something was better than doing nothing.”

Renfro began with the commitment of three students already planning to run the Bearathon and expanded support through a collegewide e-mail.

Houston senior Chase Kanaly, a Brooks Residential College resident, felt inspired to run the 13.1-mile half marathon after receiving the e-mail from Renfro.

“I thought it was a really good chance to help out the family,” Kanaly said.

While the incentive of the additional donation drives a friendly competition between the runners, Kanaly cares most about helping Ellia.

“Even if the check’s not in my name, it’s still going to the family,” Kanaly said. “It’s not about me.”

Longview senior Justin Ross, a Brooks Residential College resident and service and ministry committee member, is in charge of raising Kanaly’s support for Ellia.

“It is cool to feel like she is going to feel the support of a bunch of people,” Ross said.

Ross said supporting Ellia is an opportunity for Brooks Residential College to reach out.

“This is kind of a cool, almost hands-on, Brooks-to-Waco event,” Ross said.

Kingwood sophomore Jona Goodman, another Brooks Residential College resident running the 13.1-mile half marathon, is a pre-medical student who is especially drawn to Ellia’s condition.

“I’m interested in rare diseases and I read her story and she has a rare disease,” Goodman said. “I thought that anything that could help her I was willing to do.”

Richardson sophomore Lauren Vacendak, a community leader at Brooks Residential College, is in charge of raising Goodman’s support.

“I really felt for the family and how hard that must be since she’s so young; just the sadness of the situation and the rarity of the disease,” Vacendak said.

Vacendak put up posters on the walls of her hallway with photos of both Goodman and Ellia, beckoning residents to “Help Jona Help Ellia.”

Vacendak said she hopes Ellia will have a healthier future.

“I want her to have a fair chance at living,” Vacendak said.

Some of the supporters and runners are planning to spend part of Monday playing with Ellia, Renfro said.

The Honors Residential College, where Brett and Christina previously served as residential chaplains, has also expressed an interest in involvement, but Renfro is not yet sure how that will occur.

Donations are accepted at the front desk of Brooks College from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. every weekday through March 17.