When Maggie Walsh was a sophomore in Tom Atwell's AP European History class, she lost her father, Carl Walsh, to cancer. As a senior at La Jolla High School, she challenged Atwell to run 100 miles on the campus' track to support the American Cancer Society's Relay For Live event.
He accepted, and 10 years later, he's running farther than ever.
Atwell, who is also the head water polo and swim coach, began his annual run at 7 p.m., June 5. At 2:30 p.m., June 6, he ran the final mile of 110 in honor of the event's 10th anniversary.
"It's amazing. There were kids out here all night," Atwell said. "Some showed up at three in the morning. Some parents came out. So I actually never ran alone the whole time. It's been really inspiring."
While this annual feat started because of a student, Atwell and his family have had their own experiences battling cancer as well. Nearly 20 years ago, he was diagnosed with a rare kind of cancer called fibrous histiocytoma after developing a large tumor on his hip.
"It can be very aggressive and a lot of times fatal, but I was lucky enough to be a part of a trial that was able to cure me," he said. "And because of all the research on breast cancer, my wife is now 10 years out of it and very healthy."
With those inspiring stories in mind, Atwell — along with his students — ran those last four laps around the track. His wife, Utahna Atwell, and his daughter, Lexi Atwell, joined him to finish the final lap.
"It hits super close to home," she said. "I'm inspired as his daughter, as a student of his and as a member of this community."
Atwell said he hopes to show students that when faced with hard times, there's always something you can do. He believes this idea is critical because every one of his 170 students has been affected by cancer in some way.
"I'm not a doctor. I'm not a scientist, so I'm not going to find a cure for cancer or event treat patients. But I can run. It's my one way I can fight back."
For more information about ACS' Relay For Life, visit cancer.org.