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Sophie’s Run, revisited

Chuchmach runs from Toronto to Ottawa in memory of mom she lost to colon cancer

By Steve LeBlanc

Nicole Chuchmach had just finished a particularly difficult 20-km run near Kingston and wasn’t thinking about anything but getting some rest.

But her exhaustion was about to be overshadowed.

“We pulled into a gas station and a man asked what we were running for. We told him, and it turned out that he was a stage four survivor,” said the 38-year-old Miltonian. “It reminded us what this was all about. It really got us inspired.”

That brief but impactful encounter was among the emotional highlights of Sophie’s Run 2, named in honour of Chuchmach’s mother, who died of colon cancer 10 years ago.

A sequel to the original fundraising/awareness journey in 2008 — which took her from Milton to New York City — this spring’s run saw Chuchmach and ‘soul sister’ Natalie Atkinson cover 500km over five weeks from North Toronto’s Humber College to Ottawa.

With the pain of mom’s passing all too fresh during the first run, Chuchmach admits most days she was going purely on adrenaline — and was left with an emptiness once it was over.

“I thought, ‘What do I do now?’ I was a bit of a lost soul,” she recalled. “This time it was more positive… I had more of a contentment about it. Last time I was running more to escape. I was able to enjoy this run more and see it as honouring my mom.”

Wrapping up with a celebratory finale amidst family and friends at Parliament Hill Monday, Sophie’s Run 2 not only served as a fundraiser and awareness drive for the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada, but a unique educational experience for the hospital, recreational and tourism program students at Humber, where Chuchmach teaches event planning.

“It was 100 per cent the students organizing everything. I just ran this time. It was great hands-on experience for them and our dean was so supportive.”

Once again documenting the run — at — Chuchmach visited three oncology units during her journey.

One of these stops, at Oshawa’s Lakeridge Health, was met with the opportunity for some heartwarming closure.

“My mother never finished her chemo, so she didn’t get to ring the bell that patients do when they’re done,” said Chuchmach, who’s now fulfilling the dream of being a teacher her mom had longed for herself. Added incentive for this spring’s run came from the fact that Nicole’s sister-in-law’s mom also passed away from colon cancer about two years ago. “They let me ring the bell for her and all cheered. It was pretty emotional.”

Since the original Sophie’s Run, Chuchmach has heard from numerous people about how — after reading about her mom — they’ve abandoned their reservations about a colonoscopy and gotten themselves tested.

But she’s all too aware that colon cancer remains a sensitive subject that’s often not talked about or dealt with.

To that end, she shares her students’ Sophie’s Run 2 catchphrase with much delight.

“They came up with the hashtag It’s Your Duty To Check Your Booty,” said Chuchmach, whose fundraiser is still taking in donations toward the goal of $30,000. “It’s a fun way of taking the stigma out of it and it’s a great message for the younger generation.”

For more information on Sophie’s Run or to make a donation, visit

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