When a 5K is More Than 3.1 Miles

Alumni of GW's Ultimate Frisbee teams (in Yellow) were among the hundreds of participants who walked/ran in memory of Peter Hoffman, SEAS BS '07, in April.

Alumni of GW’s Ultimate Frisbee teams (in Yellow) were among the hundreds of participants who walked/ran in memory of Peter Hoffman, SEAS BS ’07, and raise awareness of the cancer that claimed his life.

At 8:30 AM on Saturday, April 18, my mother and I were too distracted pinning on our race bibs to notice three fellow participants stroll by wearing matching, bright yellow t-shirts. Others soon followed until before we knew it, we found ourselves next to a group more than 20 strong, all wearing the same distinctive color.

I would later find out these were alums of GW’s Ultimate Frisbee teams—some even coming from across the country—reunited to remember their teammate, peer, and friend: Peter McGee Hoffman, SEAS BS ’07.

At the time, it signaled something to my mother and me: this 5K was going to be different.

“There were hundreds of people in attendance—members of the GW family, friends and relatives of the Hoffmans, Ultimate Frisbee team alumni and current players, and supporters from the D.C. area and beyond,” Josh Lasky, CCAS BA ’07, CCAS MPA ’09, remembers. “I had recently completed my first 100-mile ultramarathon so I had some strong legs to put to good use, but this was special.”

Josh calls the 5K “one of the most important races” he’s ever run.

“This was more than just an opportunity for me to run hard,” he says. “This was an opportunity to run with a lot of heart.”

Only a year after graduating from GW, Peter Hoffman was diagnosed with an aggressive form of stage 4 oral cancer. He was 23 years old. While he underwent treatment, he began making plans to organize a 5K to raise awareness and funds for research on this devastating cancer. Peter passed away 7 months later.

A memory board composed of photos of Peter with friends and family was at the event.

A memory board composed of photos of Peter with friends and family was at the event.

Last year, his family and close friends picked up where he left off and worked to realize the goal Peter didn’t have time to finish.

“Like hundreds of thousands of graduating seniors each year, Pete thought he had the whole world in front of him,” says Ben Detofsky, GWSB BBA ’07, one of the event volunteers. “He was a healthy, athletic, and active guy who was one of the most caring, loving, and supportive people I’ve ever known. If that’s not a wake-up call to the fragility of life, I don’t know what is.”

Peter is described as being inclusive, welcoming, and proud of his family, his friends, and GW; that sentiment was palpable at the 5K Walk/Run in Memory of Peter McGee Hoffman.

Peggy Hoffman, Peter’s mother, knew she and her family wanted to host the run in the D.C. area, given the significance the region had for her son. “But people came from all over, even California, Texas, and Boston, so we just felt overwhelmed on the day,” she says. “We knew how much Peter’s friends meant to him, but the event showed us how much Peter meant to them, too.”

Over the last eight years, I’ve participated in over two dozen inaugural 5K runs, middle distance bike rides, and other athletic events. These races are usually small, typically a couple dozen participants, which means it’s a more intimate experience compared to the large-scale events that can bring thousands to block off streets in the district.

But on this warm April Saturday, surrounded by GW alumni and current students, I was blown away by the scale of participation. Peter’s mother, however, knew the GW community would come out in force.

“Even though he graduated more than eight years ago, I really wasn’t surprised at how many GW people showed up,” she says, explaining that many of his friends have stayed in touch with the Hoffmans since Peter passed away. They even made sure to welcome his sisters—Kaitlin Caruso, GSEHD MEd ’14, and Colleen Hoffman, a current student in the School of Business—when they each enrolled in master’s programs at GW.

The Hoffmans heard from many individuals, even internationally, who wanted to support the cause and remember Peter, but, many couldn’t make it all the way to DC. The solution: friends, family, and supporters hosted concurrent events across the globe.

A group gathered to participate in a simultaneous run in Regents Park, London.

A group gathered to participate in a simultaneous run in Regents Park, London.

So as my mom and I were gearing up alongside dozens of others in Meadowbrook Park in Silver Spring, Maryland, groups were simultaneously assembling in Central Park in New York City and Regents Park in London, where Peter attended high school.

“We also had virtual participants who reached out saying they were biking 50 miles or walking on their own at the same time as we were at the main event,” Peggy adds, “all to honor and remember Peter.”

Part of Peter’s original goal was to raise funds for oral cancer research, and his family made sure to include fundraising as an option for participants. Their initial goal of $15,000 was quickly passed in a matter of weeks.

“We kept raising the goal and meeting it,” says Peggy, “so by the time we’d set a $30,000 goal, we decided to just leave it there and if we went above it, so be it. At this point, we’re over $52,000.”

“The event was incredibly successful. Even beyond the normal measures of 5K fundraiser metrics,” says Ben. “It was an amazing day.”

“It was more than just a fundraiser and more than just a run,” adds Josh.

Josh finished first in the 5K run, and as my mother and I and the other 300 joggers and walkers followed, we each crossed under a balloon archway at the finish line. This was less about winning or losing but more about being part of something: a strong, united, and enduring GW community.

Carey Russell

 

To learn more, explore #iwalkforpete on IG and Twitter,  or read the interview with Peter’s sister, Kaitlin Caruso, in GW Today.

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