Bolivar man uses love of running to help local family

Bolivar man uses love of running to help local family

Stephen Strawn, a member of the New Philadelphia Planet Fitness, will do a 24-hour run at the fitness club to benefit Peter, a 9-year-old Tuscarawas Valley Intermediate School student who is undergoing treatment for alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma cancer.


A charity event will be held Saturday, Nov. 23 in honor of a local boy being treated for cancer.

“I first found out about Peter while I was sitting at the Canal Street Diner,” said Stephen Strawn, a resident of Bolivar. “I was having breakfast and saw a donation bucket for Peter, and since my kids go to Tusky Valley and my son is also in second grade, I wanted to do something to help the family.”

After bringing up the idea of a fundraiser to his wife, Strawn reached out to Peter’s parents, Krisann and Daniel Stenz, to get their approval.

“After that I had the opportunity to go up and meet Peter in person at Akron Children’s Hospital,” Strawn said. “I quickly realized how awesome he was, which made me want to help the family out as much as possible.”

Strawn, a member of the New Philadelphia Planet Fitness, will do a 24-hour run at the fitness club to benefit the 9-year-old Tuscarawas Valley Intermediate School student, who is undergoing treatment for alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma cancer.

Alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, also known as ARMS, typically affects all age groups equally, according to the American Cancer Society. It makes up a larger portion of rhabdomyosarcoma in older children, teens and adults than in younger children.

ARMS most often occurs in the large skeletal muscles of the chest or abdomen, arms and legs and tends to grow faster and requires more intense treatment than other forms of rhabdomyosarcoma.

Strawn came up with an idea for an event to benefit the child and approached the general manager of the club about holding it there.

The original plan was for Strawn and a friend to run the miles together; however, a couple of members of Planet Fitness and some nonmembers of the community wanted to help out and decided to add their collective running shoes to the mix.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by the support of the community,” Strawn said. “I’ve had other runners, some from out of state, agree to run the whole 24 hours on the treadmill with me.”

Strawn said help has come in many ways including people willing to put up flyers, make a donation or just share the event details for Peter and his family.

“It’s a great feeling to see so many come together to support this family,” Strawn said. “No child should have to go through what Peter is, but with support of the community, we are able to help reduce the financial burden the family is experiencing.”

Planet Fitness staff has been collecting contact information of those who want to participate in the run. Donations are not expected from those who want to help run, just their participation for awareness.

Strawn has been visiting area businesses, collecting donation pledges per mile run during the event, as well as accepting monetary donations for the family. All donations will go directly to Peter’s family.

Strawn came to love running and fitness when he quit smoking six years ago. “I started smoking when I enlisted in the military in 2001, and after I quit, I started gaining weight and decided to make a change,” he said.

Four years ago Strawn met ultra-runner and fellow veteran Eric Whittington, owner of Brimstone Cycles in Canal Fulton.

“He challenged me to a 24-hour endurance race,” Strawn said. “I completed a 100k distance, 62 miles in 21:53. After that I was hooked.”

Strawn said finishing an ultra-marathon makes all the hours of suffering worth it. “It’s truly more mental than physical,” he said. “I think that’s what I love the most about running. I also love the running community because they are so supportive, and I love being able to see others reach their running goals. It’s a very encouraging group of people.”

The run will begin at 8 a.m. on Nov. 23 at the Planet Fitness, 270 Bluebell Drive NW, New Philadelphia. More than 120 are set to attend with doughnuts provided by Dough Co., and another business will donate pizza.

A personal trainer from the New Philadelphia Planet Fitness will be in from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. the day of the event to offer free stretch classes and 360 classes for anyone who wants to participate. The club also will offer free hydro and massage chair use to people during the event.

In addition, for anyone who logs miles during the event, a guess of how many miles ran can be purchased at the club. Whichever participant gets the closest guess of total miles will win a running accessory gift basket donated by the supporters.

“I realized how much running has helped me with my life, marriage and my mental health that I wanted to help others as well by doing anything I could to be supportive of them,” Strawn said. “When I saw the donation bucket for Peter, I just knew I wanted to help. If I can spend 24 hours running on a treadmill to help a local family, then this is the best way I can think of to give back.”

For those who would like to donate to Peter’s medical expenses, there is a GoFundMe page at

Those who would like to add their names to the list of participants can call the New Philadelphia Planet Fitness at 234-801-4527 or stop in the club in person.

The prognosis for those with rhabdomyosarcoma depends on many factors including the type, the location and size of the tumor, the results of surgery, and whether the cancer has spread.

Kyle Valentini contributed to this story.

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