5K race inspires high schoolers to mobilize community to help families in crisis due to illnesses

SJ5K organizers look for charity match for donations during week before race

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Barb Lindlbauer gets emotional just thinking about how her community united to help her son Jess shortly after he suffered a near-fatal brain abscess.

It was 2010 and Jess Lindlbauer was 16 years old. He spent months in C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor facing brain trauma and meningitis. He also lost his ability to speak and walk.

Tommy Halewicz, a Canton High School senior at the time, organized a 5-kilometer race to raise money to help the Lindlbauer family. He planned on 500 people, but 1,800 runners showed up in the rain, raising $45,000. Halewicz was dating Jess's sister at the time and is now his brother-in-law.

The money helped pay for Jess's medical costs.

"It enabled us to build a first-floor, roll-in shower for him, a full bathroom on this floor, which we didn’t have before, and it also helped us pay ,,, (for a) van as well," Barb Lindlbauer said.

The race fundraiser, held at the Plymouth Canton Educational Park, was called the Super Jess 5K. Now often referred to as the SJ5K, the event has been held every year since to benefit other families in the Plymouth Canton community.

"SJ5K is a charity race that we held every year for families in the Plymouth Canton area who are under medical stress and maybe can't pay medical bills or have trouble getting the proper treatment they need for their disease," said Armaan Patel, the co-leader of the SJ5K sponsorship team and a senior at Plymouth High School.

"He (Jess) is the reason why this happened and he is the reason why I'm making a difference in these families lives," said Arianna Mattioli, the SJ5K promotions coordinator and a Canton High School senior.

The SJ5K is organized by high school seniors with an adult board overseeing the project. The students spend all year planning and preparing for the race.

"I feel like the SJ5K gives high school more of a purpose cause I'm doing something that's bigger than just school," said Emma Gilbert, the co-leader of the SJ5K sponsorship team and a Salem High School senior.

Nine families will benefit from this year's SJ5K: Tom Finfrock, Byron Wydendorf, Donna Barnes, Alyssa Garland, Gideon and Scarlett Rhodes, Rebecca Kasinger, Andrea Faught, Makenzie Carpenter and Jennifer Kelley. For more on the families, click here.

The high school seniors learn a lot as part of the leadership team for the SJ5K.

"The community is coming together as a whole. Your neighbors may not know you. You get to run next to them side by side and run through the finish line and be like wow this is. It embodies Plymouth-Canton, our area, and brings the whole community together and just makes us close," Patel said.

Katherine Parker, a senior at Salem High School, had participated in the race a couple of times but didn't know a lot about the event before signing up to help organize it. She says her decision to do so has changed her life.

"I had no idea that whim choice that I made would impact my life the way it has," said Parker, the SJ5K family outreach coordinator.

"I really, really, really like SJ5K because it's bringing the community together. We're a huge community, we are Plymouth, we are Canton, we are part of Salem Township, and there's so many people that want to help each other but we don't know exactly how to do it and there is so many people that need our help," Parker said. "I think SJ5K channels all this help into one area and we can help the people that we want to help."

"I feel that the SJ5K has a really big impact on the community, not just the families that we support, but also the families that go out and see what they're doing for the families," Gilbert said.

"I think it builds different skills that we don't get to necessarily build in a science or a math class. It broadens our opportunities and we get to work with different teachers and we get to make an actual difference in families lives," Mattioli said.

Jess, now 23, is thrilled to see the legacy of the first 5K continue each year to benefit other families.

"It just keeps getting bigger every year, but it was cool to see all those people there coming together to help someone that needed help," he said.

The Lindlbauer family remains involved in the SJ5K. Barb Lindlbauer, who helps with recipient outreach, works with families to help them navigate the health care system. 

"It is still sometimes, even all these years later, it is hard to understand why this had to happen to Jessie, but I feel like, if it hadn't, this would have never happened and sometimes bad things have to happen to make something really great happen, and this was something really great that happened and so it makes sense of the senseless to me," Barb Lindlbauer said.

Jess Lindlbauer is studying graphic arts at community college. He bikes part of the race every year and enjoys talking with everyone at the race. 

The SJ5K is Sunday May 6 at 8 a.m. at the varsity field by Canton High School located at the Plymouth Canton Educational Park, 8415 Canton Center Road. For more information on the race or to register, click here.

Nearly 3,000 people have signed up and the event has already raised $108,000 for these families.

Organizers of the SJ5K are hoping to recruit a charity match for all the donations they receive the week leading up to the race April 29 to May 6. Anyone interested can email Beth Savalox at beth.savalox@pccsk12.com.

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