"Where there's a WILL, there's a way." -- motto used by Pleasant Valley High School students at Kohn family fundraisers
Tim McKinnon is acutely aware of the countless memorial road races crammed on the Quad-Cities running calendar each year.
"Sadly, there's too many great causes out there," said the co-founder of the local online sign-up service, Bettendorf's GetMeRegistered.com.
However, inspired by the motto used last year, especially in his children's school, McKinnon is adding another fundraiser to the local landscape, the Aug. 16 "The Strongest Kid We Know Run/Walk" at Pleasant Valley High School. It will be "A Celebration of the Life of Will J. Kohn."
"This one has touched the hearts of too many not to do something," said McKinnon, whose company is organizing the event.
Will died Jan. 27 at the age of 7 of large B-cell lymphoma, just months after receiving a long-needed heart transplant. Diagnosed before birth with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, Will faced many physical challenges and surgeries over his short life.
He was the first patient at the University of Iowa’s Stead Family Children’s Hospital, where he received a new heart last September.
He returned home to Bettendorf in December, but discovery of a new illness soon led to Will's return to Iowa City, where he died a month later.
The Kohn's battle for their son's life captured local media attention and the hearts of many nationwide, with Will part of the first year “Hospital Wave” at Kinnick Stadium during Hawkeyes football games.
"As a father, I can't think of many things more brutal than what this family went through," said McKinnon, a Moline native, whose son graduated in May from PVHS and daughter continues to attend the school where Will's dad, Chris, is a teacher and coach.
"To have your little boy fight so long and so hard and finally get the heart he needed, only to then lose his life because of cancer, it's just so tragic. When Will got the heart, so many celebrated what they'd prayed for every night, but then that hope was so quickly taken away. It's heartbreaking."
McKinnon hopes the upcoming road race helps heal some of those wounds by offering some triumph over the tragedy.
A 5K and 1-mile is offered at 6:45 p.m. that Thursday night, with the finish line the players' entrance to the football field at PV's Spartan Stadium.
"Once in a while, a coach would take him out on the sidelines so he could watch," said Chris Kohn, PV's head freshman football coach. "But that entrance — the gate to the field — was his spot.’’
Online registration remains open until Aug. 16 at GetMeRegistered.com. Walk-up sign-ups also are available on site that night from 3-6:30 p.m.
Donations for non-runners is available and volunteers are welcome. All proceeds benefit the Will Kohn Family Benefit Fund.
“The hope with the money raised is to totally endow one scholarship for a PV senior going into medicine," said Chris Kohn. "If there is enough, we will work on a second scholarship for a senior going into the education field."
Chris Kohn and his wife Meghan admitted, when they first met with McKinnon about the event, "we believed we were at the point where it was time to move on," Chris said.
The couple spent a withering 13 months apart when Will was in Iowa City, with Chris joining his wife and late son on weekends after teaching and coaching during the week here at home.
Chris said the past six months have been a mixture of good and bad days while spending, he said, "a lot of time getting back to our lives together at our house."
"We thought the world was done doing wonderful things on behalf of Will Kohn," Meghan said.
"But Tim gave us several reasons why this is a good thing for the community, for us, and for Will’s memory," Chris added.
Those memories include a resilient little boy who loved swimming and playing with construction toys in the dirt. Will also dreamed of visiting Legoland and a beach some day while exploring the world through an iPad.
"This is a sign of the Kohn's bravery that they are going to keep Will's spirit and legacy alive to help others in the future," McKinnon said.
"Even with their own medical bills, the first thing Meghan mentioned is wanting to help other families in the same situation. She said, `We had so much support, but we're in the minority -- most of the families going through some of the same things don't have that.'
"That's incredible grace and selflessness we could all learn from."
Not surprisingly, McKinnon said, the local business community has been similarly gracious.
"Once Chris and Meghan gave me the greenlight for this event, I made 10 or 12 calls the next day and every single person I reached out to said, `You just tell me I can do,'" McKinnon said.
"I asked people to provide products and services, and every vendor and supplier said the invoice for this event is zero. We've had sponsors approach us wondering how they can help. It's been so powerful to hear, that with all of the divisiveness that you hear about these days, this is something where everyone just said, `I'll do whatever I can.'
"Hopefully this helps the Kohn's through the healing process, too. They get to feel the love and support of their community again, and they get to see how many lives were touched by Will."