Video: Racing against cancer

By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 8/4/2006 7:32:49 PM ET 2006-08-04T23:32:49

It's a test of endurance. And yet, the way Mike McCoy sees it, those with real resolve aren't even here.

They're the children he's running for — kids with cancer at the St. Jude Hospital in Memphis.

"Not everyone's going to make it yet. They're just not going to do that, and that's why we do this," McCoy says.

“This” is a grueling four-day, 465-mile, round-the-clock, in-the-heat-of-August relay. Memphis to Peoria, Ill., where McCoy's the county sheriff. He felt more like the class clown after the first run he put together 25 years ago.

"We did some of the dumbest things," McCoy says. "We tried to run with welder's masks on because we didn't know if the bugs would hit us at night."

And his modest goal in 1982: $25,000. It wasn't met.

This year, they'll top $1 million in pledges and donations.

"Without people like Mike McCoy we wouldn't be able to do what we do. We wouldn't be able to cure children with cancer," says Dr. Joe Mirro of St. Jude Hospital.

For more than two decades, McCoy has said nothing could keep him from being here. This year, that promise was put to the test.

In January, a pickup truck slammed into him and another runner, shattering McCoy's pelvis and almost killing him.

"We were like a whisper away from not being here," he says. "Just not being here. Not being anywhere."

Doctors said he'd never run again, a prediction that didn't take into account that Sheriff McCoy is a student of beating the odds — taught by very sick children who fight for their lives, and win.

So, he's back. Slower than before, more determined than ever. And recognizing he's been given a second chance to go the distance, for the love of children.

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