For wellness coach and cancer survivor Jenn Andrews, an unexpected viral movement launches a nonprofit.
by Michelle Boudin
For 3 miles, Jenn Andrews had deliberately paced herself, determined to complete the entire race without slowing to a walk at any point. But when the cancer survivor and amputee rounded the last curve of the Isabella Santos Foundation 5K for Kids Cancer, the finish line was in sight and she realized she no longer had to keep anything in reserve.
“When we turned and saw that last incline, I was kind of struggling, so we put on some Cardi B and somehow pushed through. I got runner’s high, so I took off sprinting to the finish line, and when I got there I was crying.”
More than 30 friends surrounded her on that day in September, including her oncoclogist and her high-school sweetheart husband, Miles, who ran by her side throughout the race. They all wanted to see her cross the finish line and achieve the goal she’d set for herself five months before.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt as accomplished … in my entire life, out of anything I’ve ever done. So much had been taken away from me, and [finishing the race] gave me a sense of gaining some of what was taken away back.”
That race was just five months after Andrews, a health and wellness coach, had surgery to remove her right foot. She’d found a cancerous tumor while getting a pedicure in 2013. When it came back in early 2018, doctors told her her best hope of seeing her young kids grow up was to amputate.
A week before the surgery, the 35-year old mother of two made a video for her Facebook friends asking them to spend the day of her surgery “moving” in her honor. “I wanted people in my network to do some sort of exercise or something that day, because I couldn’t.”
That video reached far beyond her followers, receiving almost 90,000 views and starting a movement that quickly turned into a nonprofit foundation.
“When my story went viral, we started getting back all these messages from people who felt inspired to get moving because they realized what a gift mobility was, and it inspired us,” the Waxhaw resident says.
Unfortunately, Andrews realized, not everyone can afford the prosthetics that enable that mobility. Running blades, which last three to five years, can cost $5,000 to $50,000 and typically aren’t covered by insurance.
“Once we realized how expensive it is to be an active amputee and how much out-of-pocket expense there is, we realized how many people want to be more mobile but don’t have the financial resources to do so. So we came up with Move for Jenn to help bridge that gap.”
Move for Jenn officially became a nonprofit last July. In December, the group granted its first gift, a running blade, to Jacob Poteat, a 21-year old firefighter from Rutherfordton who lost his left leg to cancer.
Poteat was stunned by the generosity. “Oh my gosh. It’s nothing short of amazing. Jenn cares about helping others. I never thought I’d be able to run again and exercise.” Having the blade has helped give him the courage to go to school to be a police officer, he says. “I couldn’t be more grateful to Jenn. The fact that she started a foundation to help amputees like us, it’s just so selfless. If there were more people like Jenn, the world would be a better place.”
Though less than a year old, the Move for Jenn Foundation has already held a dozen fundraising events in the community. Upcoming fundraisers include a Swing for Sarcoma event at Topgolf on July 20 and summer art camps at local AR Workshop locations — registrants can use a special promo code to get $10 off their enrollment, and a $10 donation will be made to the foundation. Move for Jenn is already planning for what it hopes will be a big annual event. Fittingly, it’s a 5K, scheduled for November.
Renee Schreibman, a local wellness coach, serves on the Move for Jenn Foundation board. “Jenn is just unstoppable. She’s a warrior who just wants to turn something really bad into something really good — to be able to show people that you can rise up from that. She’s just a role model,” Schreibman says.
“It feels amazing to have this nonprofit,” Andrews says. I feel like all of 2018 was like Groundhog Day — my entire life was on hold at the end of the year. I was so ready for a fresh start of 2019, and with the Move for Jenn Foundation, I’ve got it. Being able to use my story to help other people and being able to gift these running blades shows some purpose for what happened.” SP