BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A cancer survivor who first discovered her symptoms while running, is the inspiration behind a student athlete running camp happening this week at Walker High School this week.
Melissa Wilkes, a mom of five, was diagnosed with stage four BRAF-mutant colorectal cancer in November 2015 while her family was living in North Carolina.
She and her family share a love for running. "Our family has been running since my kids were old enough to walk. We have always felt activity was good for us mentally, as well as physical," said Wilkes.
Wilkes says running is how she noticed she was sick. Her symptoms reportedly became apparent while training for a half marathon.
"She actually ran that race and came in first place in her age division and a week or so later she went to the doctor because the symptoms were worse," said her husband, Pastor Michael Wilkes of The Oaks Church in Denham Springs.
Wilkes endured eight months of treatments before her family made the decision to move back home to Baton Rouge to be close to family. At the time, she qualified for a new clinical trial from MD Anderson that was being administered in Baton Rouge.
"She is now cancer-free, in remission, and doing very well," said Pastor Wilkes. May 2017 was her final treatment, although she does still do maintenance at Baton Rouge General.
At the beginning of the summer, Wilkes was searching for a track camp for her daughters to attend but couldn't find one nearby that she thought would work for them. That's when she approached her husband and the local spokesperson for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) about creating a camp themselves.
"She has always tried to find ways to serve and be a blessing all through the cancer but now she has energy," said Pastor Wilkes.
Wilkes decided to give back to her community by helping to organize the Strive Runner's Camp, with help from the FCA and The Oaks Church.
The camp started Tuesday morning and lasts until Friday. It is for students entering the 5th through 12th grade.
STRIVE RUNNER'S CAMP
- Tuesday, June 19 to Friday, June 22
- 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
- Walker High School Track
- 12646 Burgess Avenue
Guest speakers and trainers at the camp include local track coaches, Denham Springs High School upper classmen, University of Louisiana at Lafayette pole vaulter, and a UL Lafayette alumni runner.
- Mike Picou, Ray McCon and Andy McClean, local track coaches
- Alexandria Morrison, Denham Springs High School upper classmen
- Kyle Baudoin, UL Lafayette pole vaulter
- Ashley Faulk Burkes, UL Lafayette alumni runner
While the first day of camp has already passed, Pastor Wilkes says they will not turn away any student athlete still wanting to attend. Registration is $30 but will be waived if the student cannot pay it since there are no longer any of the camp t-shirts available for last minute participants.
Organizers say participants will learn leadership skills for life, both on and off the field, and how to compete as a Christian athlete.