Boy who lost foot, toes chose charity to benefit from event

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Sam Day gives out high-fives to fellow classmates as he runs through a Terra Linda Elementary breezeway as part of the annual 'SamRock Run.' The event is a charity drive that benefits the Challenge Athletes' Foundation. Sam Day personifies the concept of mind over matter.

Despite losing his lower left leg and right-foot toes to cancerous tumors, there is little if anything — including a new metal prosthetic leg — that slows down this Terra Linda Elementary School fifth-grader.

“He pushes it,” said Sam’s mom, Lorna Day. “He’s always jumping or wrestling on the trampoline. He forgets he’s still healing.”

Based on his exuberance while racing around the school’s perimeter with his fellow fifth-graders on Friday morning, the only healing Sam seemed to be thinking about was that of others. Sam joined his classmates in the third annual “SamRock Run,” for which students seek pledges from sponsors and run laps to raise money for a charity of Sam’s choice.

For his final year at Terra Linda before he moves on to the Beaverton Health and Science School as a sixth-grader, Sam chose the Challenged Athletes’ Foundation as this year’s recipient. by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Brianna Gonser encourages a tired classmate during the SamRock Run at Terra Linda Elementary School on Friday.

Earlier this month, Sarah Reinertson, an amputee who has run and completed an “Ironman” triathlon, visited Terra Linda on behalf of the foundation.

“The students were in awe as they watched the video of her participating in the triathlon and then listened to her presentation and heard how much one running leg costs,” said Ruth Williams, Sam’s third-grade teacher.

The students who jogged or ran at least four laps around the school building on Friday were motivated by Sam’s irrepressible spirit along with the goal of surpassing the $30,000 the SamRock Run has raised for charities such as Shriner’s Hospital since the first event in 2010. The run’s name is wordplay from Portland’s popular Shamrock Run on St. Patrick’s Day.

Terra Linda first- through fourth-graders lined the racecourse to cheer on Sam and the other fifth-graders, with the first-grade class cheering “Fifth-grade rocks!” Near the finish line, runners announced their intentions in going the extra mile — “I’m running one more! I’m running five more!” — or in some cases, not.

“I give up!” one exhausted student exclaimed.

Brianna Gonser, a fifth-grader in Sam’s class, was happy to take part in an event to help others as well as Sam, a friend of her’s since kindergarten.

“Sam’s going through a hard time, so we need to make (charity) money to help him, and help him be strong,” Gonser said after she finished running around the building. “I think I did 10 or 12 laps, but I didn’t really count.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Hundreds of his fellow schoolmates find Sam Day an inspiration.

One day at a time

Sam was a third-grader when he was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in 2010. The rare disease is characterized by cancer cells that form small, round tumors in the bone or in soft tissue, most commonly in the pelvis, femur, ribs and collar bone. The discovery of a tumor in his left fibula and another on his right side led to extensive chemotherapy and surgery last November to remove his left foot and two toes on his right foot.

Sam is now cancer-free and engaging in physical therapy. His family, including Lorna, his father, Bob Day, and sister Natalie, a student at Cedar Park Middle School, are all cautiously hopeful Sam’s worst troubles are behind him.

“He’s at risk of having more (tumors),” Lorna said. “Right now he’s cancer-free. He’s doing what he can with things like medicine and diet. It’s a scary time, but we’re feeling optimistic.”

Sam, who ran four laps Friday and had plenty of energy left for a high-velocity foosball game after his namesake event, appreciates the support from his family and friends at school. The movement started when some classmates and teachers shaved their heads as chemotherapy robbed Sam of his hair in third grade.

“My friends shaved their heads and called it ‘Sam’s Club,’” he explained. “We didn’t want to get sued (by the bulk retail chain of the same name), so they called it Sam’s Circle. It’s really inspiring. It shows no matter what happens, you always have someone there to support you.”

He acknowledges his ordeal, but chooses to look ahead.

“I need to get back in rehab and get the hang of it,” he said of his prosthesis. “Next year is a new beginning and a new school.”

While optimistic about Sam’s prognosis, Lorna finds it a challenge to keep her innately rambunctious son from overextending himself in day-to-day activities.

“We want him to live life the way his spirit is meant to live,” she said. “But we want him to be cautious.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Bradley Thurber records the tally for how many laps the Terra Linda students ran around the school during the SamRock Run.

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