The average Bucks County 11-year-old spends summers sleeping in, hanging out with friends and maybe a few family beach trips.
Ryan Tarapchak did all of these things, but somewhere in between he squeezed in a three- to eight-mile run, every day.
It wasn’t for personal fitness or training for the Maple Point Middle School track season. He was running to help his friend and classmate Nick O’Brien’s little sister, Isabella, raise money to combat stage four alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer of the body’s connective tissue.
On Oct. 31, he’ll be the youngest member of the Runners for Research, a group participating in the American Association for Cancer Research Rock ’N’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon.
It’s a cause he feels strongly about, but first took on for 6-year-old Isabella, when last March he learned of the little girl’s struggle.
“I came home and told my mom I wanted to give all my money to Isabella,” he said. “I just felt really bad and wanted to help.
Janine Tarapchak was surprised, both by the news and her son’s ambition. She wanted to think of a way he could contribute.
She previously organized a 5K to benefit Maple Point, and helped him realize that his talent in track and cross country could help bring attention to his cause.
“I thought it would only be family and friends,” she said.
Initially it was, but Ryan wouldn’t give up. Starting in early August, for 30 straight days he ran the streets of his Langhorne neighborhood, and put together a GoFundMe campaign, where people could contribute online.
Thanks to some attention from various media outlets and social media sharing, the total for Team Isabella hit about $16,000.
“He truly did run all 30 days. If we were going to the shore, he would get up and go first. He would come home from his friends’ houses because he still had to run. His best friends would sleep over and he would get up and leave them to run. In the heat, whatever it was. He made that commitment and followed through with it,” his mother said. “I’m really proud of him.”
A lot of the time, he was thinking of his own sister, Lexi, who is about the same age as Isabella. He would think of his brothers Michael, 14, Ryan, 11, Cole, 9, and his parents, Michael and Janine. He hoped if they were ever in that situation, someone would do this for them.
“My husband and I try to teach our kids that the world is bigger than what’s just here in front of us,” Tarapchak said.
That ethic is part of the reason she’ll be running alongside her son in the half marathon, which starts outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“He’s so much faster than me,” she said. “I have to tell him to slow down.”
The AACR, the charity partner in the race, has taken notice, too.
“To think about an 11-year-old boy who thought so deeply about his friend … that’s inspiring stuff,” AACR Executive Director Mitch Stoller said. “He’s a great young role model for lots of people out there.”
The global organization is headquartered in Philadelphia and works to fund, initiate and promote cancer research. The young runner jumped at the chance to help again, this time for all people struggling with cancer. But, like during the many laps around his neighborhood, Isabella will be at the front of his mind.
“They want to help, too,” he said. “We just want to help out everyone in the world who has cancer.”
To contribute to Team Isabella, visit www.teamisabella.org.