Killing of 6 children being re-tried 25 years later

Fighting life's obstacles with Zaching strongman spirit

"When [Zach] was about to die, he told his parents, 'I want my life to have had a purpose.'"

Columbia residents Christy Erwin and Margie Jessell have gathered the community to tackle cancer's hurdle together while increasing leukemia awareness and contributing to research funding for Zaching Against Cancer Foundation.

The duo hope to accomplish this during their Around the World Family Fitness Challenge Aug. 22 at Martin Road Park, in Columbia.

Designed by Erwin and Jessell, the obstacle course will have 14 different challenges for families to conquer, named such things as Horseracing in Belmont and Jamaica Sprinting.

"It's not designed to be a tough mudder," Erwin said. "It's designed to be fun." She said the Horseracing in Belmont will be four people on hopping balls, racing each other.

"We also wanted to do an event where families could have a unique bonding experience with each other," she said

And what do you get if you win?

"Well, you get bragging rights until the next obstacle," she said. "So, if Mom wins the basketball shoot, she gets to brag until they get to Jamaica Sprinting. If Dad wins Jamaica Sprinting, he gets bragging rights."

After crossing the finish line, everyone will receive water and energy bars as well as a raffle ticket for prize drawings, such as a Beanie Baby basket, wine, a solar charging system or a signed hockey stick used in the playoffs by Washington Capitals player John Carlson.

According to Erwin, the idea behind the family fitness challenge started with the Zaching Against Cancer Foundation.

"When Zach [Lederer] was 11, he got a brain tumor and Ben Carson actually operated and took it out," Erwin said. "He was cancer-free. He [later] became University of Maryland basketball's team manager."

But while he was in college, she said, Zach's cancer returned and was found inoperable during another surgery. Coming out of surgery, Zach had his father take a picture of him in the strongman pose, which later went viral with the tagline, "Tebowing is out. Zaching is in."

Along with his family, coaches and friends, Zach started the foundation to help those suffering from cancer and offer a support network, sharing his story across the country to encourage others to "live the dream."

He died on March 11, 2014.

"When he was about to die, he told his parents, 'I want my life to have had a purpose,'" Erwin said.

Both Erwin and Jessell share the same mission through their foundations, Team Matt and Andi's Army.

"Andi's Army formed first when a member of our community lost his sister, Andi Roberts, to leukemia," Erwin said.

Roberts, a mother with young children, was an Army helicopter pilot in the Iraq War.

Jessell said Roberts was a family friend living in Virginia whose brother, nieces and nephews began Andi's Army to support her in her battle against leukemia.

"The first year we did Andi's Army, we were raising money for Leukemia Lymphoma Society," Jessell said. "Andi was with us. It was truly just a heartwarming experience. A lot of the families who were a part of Andi's Army didn't even know Andi. That's how tremendous it was from the beginning."

Roberts lost her battle four months later in January 2012, Jessell said, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

A year later, tragedy struck Erwin's family when her son, Matt, was diagnosed with leukemia.

"Matt was a healthy kid," she said. "He went to Atholton High School and played lacrosse. He was a lifeguard for the Columbia Association. He got into his dream college [Messiah College] in Pennsylvania as an engineering student. He was living his dream until one day he collapsed."

At 18 years old, Matt was diagnosed with leukemia and began chemotherapy at Johns Hopkins Hospital. But, he remained determined to "kick its butt."

"Talk about the miracle of prayer, a minister was there [when Matt heard the news] and he asked Matt, 'What can I pray for?' Matt's answer was that the Ravens win the SuperBowl," Erwin said. "In 2013, the Ravens were the wild card, but guess what? They did. We watched every game in that hospital. We were like, 'Why didn't you say treat your cancer?' "

Team Matt began when Matt's 9-year-old sister, Emily, wanted to help her brother feel better and decided to raise money through her own lemonade stand. After Erwin sent out a Facebook message about the stand to family, friends and neighbors, she was shocked by the result.

"I can't even tell you what my front yard looked like," she said.

The lemonade stand brought in $1,200 through sales and donations.

Today, Matt continues chemotherapy but is staying strong and was accepted into the engineering department at the University of Maryland, where he will study aeronautical engineering. But first, he will be running one of the stations during the family fitness challenge.

Together, Erwin and Jessell have formed their powerhouse effort to raise money for leukemia research.

"The feeling that you get when you're doing something outside of yourself and volunteering is amazing," Jessell said.

"We're all about fundraising," Erwin continued. "I spent 2013 in Johns Hopkins like I lived there. I saw children with chemo poles and bald heads more than anyone should ever have to experience. Leukemia is the number one childhood cancer. I have made it my mission to spend the rest of my life researching to find a cure or at least better treatments. We just are really hoping that what we do will help."

The event will be held at Martin Road Park at 6701 Martin Road in Columbia from 5 to 8 p.m. on Aug. 22. Tickets are available at eventbrite.com/e/andis-army-team-matt-around-the-world-family-fitness-challenge-tickets-16742224444. All proceeds go toward Zaching Against Cancer in memory of Zach and Andi and in honor of Matt. Sponsors include the Columbia Association, the Outer Office, Michael Baker International, the Wendy Slaughter Team, Giant Food, Costco, Pioneer Custom Cleaning, Mt. Zion United Methodist Church Youth Ministries, Brandon Dean's Babysitting Service, Stella and Dott Stylist, Anne Cullen, Harris Corporation, ADCI, Super Green Solutions, Howard Bank, and Grille Chick'n Pollo Inc. For more information, contact Christy Erwin at clerwin@verizon.net or Margie Jessell at hjessell@verizon.net.

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