By Annette Hinkle
Brigid Collins Stewart, mother of Katy Stewart, a Pierson Middle School student who died in December 2010 at the age of 12 from a rare form of liver cancer. In memory of their daughter, Brigid and her husband Jim founded Katy’s Courage to raise funds for cancer research, education and bereavement support.
The third annual Katy’s Courage 5K run in Sag Harbor on April 13 — how many runners has the event attracted in the past?
The first year we had the most. They stopped taking registrations at 1,700 and I think there were close to 2,000. Over the two years it’s pretty much been sustained. Last year, we had registered over 1,200.
Why do you think the 5K is so popular?
Here’s what I feel – Kate was loved by a lot of people and we live in a close and supportive community. We had a lot of people helping us through our journey and they wanted to get out and help.
It must be therapeutic for you and Jim to see so many people turn out in Katy’s memory.
It’s a great opportunity for us to honor her memory. We’re very proud of her. We feel her spirit is present when everyone is together and feel her purpose here. When the community comes together to do something positive and help support a cause, I think that’s what she was about as a child. I feel like it embodies her personality.
Katy had so many good friends at school. Do they make a point of taking part in Katy’s Courage events?
Her friends are always out there. We had the skate-a-thon at Buckskill recently and they baked for the bake sale and skated. I’m sure they’ll do the same thing for the 5K, come in pink and wear their bows to show support.
It must be bittersweet to watch them change and grow.
I’m happy for them and proud of them. I feel like Kate touched their lives in a special way. I think it was hard for them to lose Kate and it gave them a special understanding to bring through their lives. I think knowing life can be short gives you a very basic understanding of enjoying your days. It’s an important lesson for all of us.
Her friends think about her a lot and they’ll see me and make a point of coming over to talk to me and email me. I’m Facebook friends with many of them.
I think about Kate, she was a loving child and special in that way. She was friends with lots of kids — both popular and not so popular. I could see it, she was kind to everyone. She had an ability with grownups and kids alike to make connections. She valued people and their experiences. As a child she had a lot of empathy. It was her greatest gift.
Can you tell me how the money raised through Katy’s Courage is used?
We just got our not-for-profit status in October and we’re slowly growing and evolving. We’ve given out two $10,000 scholarships — one each year to a graduating Pierson student — in Kate’s memory.
In the fall we were able to establish the Katy’s Courage Fund for Pediatric Cancer Research at Sloan Kettering — a fund we hope will build and grow. We know Sloan Kettering is doing innovative and cutting edge research and that’s where we wanted the money to go — directly to doctors working hard to find solutions.
We also have the long term goal for a bereavement center on the East End. That will take a few years, but we will get there. Our little boy, Robert, was six when Kate passed away and we took a trip to the Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas, which specialized in his age group. It was therapeutic and we learned a lot. We could see the transformation in him and it helped a lot.
We try to do those three things — we care about education and like to think of children going forward — even though Kate couldn’t. We also knew we wanted to do something for cancer research. And we saw how much Robert benefited from the bereavement center.
The 2013 Katy’s Courage 5K is Saturday, April 13, 2013 in Sag Harbor at 8:30 a.m. To register visit www.islandrunning.net. To learn more about Katy’s Courage, visit www.katyscourage.org or call 725-7437. To make a donation, send checks payable to Katy’s Courage to PO Box 3251, Sag Harbor, NY 11963.