The beautiful and remote Big Island of Hawaii is the home of five young, dedicated athletes, but on Feb. 14 the teenagers will be in the big city running the Los Angeles Marathon in support of Team Concern, a group that raises money for the Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Cancer Program at USC.

The AYA Program is a collaborative effort between the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and USC Norris Cancer Hospital, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center that concentrates on treatment, emotional needs and social support for teens and young adults with cancer. Team Concern, part of the Concern Foundation, has been one of the earliest and most consistent supporters of the AYA program, donating more than $350,000 to the program in the last five years. The Foundation is an official charity of the LA Marathon.

The program is a cause the students can easily get behind. Kobe Miller, 16, takes the matter very personally.

“I lost two immediate family members to cancer, so I would like to help prevent the same from happening to others,” he said.

Kobe is not the only one among the five that’s been personally touched by cancer. In fact, almost all of the students have had a relative or close friend battle cancer at some point.

Stella Javier, 17, was quick to point out that not only are they helping fight cancer, they are helping themselves grow as human beings.

“My favorite thing about running is the effect it has on my mental, emotional, and physical being and how the benefits have leaked into my everyday life,” she said, adding that it is not always easy. “It’s about finding a balance between my mental and physical capabilities, remembering ‘mind over matter’ and pushing through those walls I hit along the way. It’s the most challenging yet the most rewarding thing!”

Their trip will include a dinner and breakfast with Team Concern before the 26.2-mile race. But they also may find some time to go to Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia to let off a little steam before the big day, as well as tour the USC campus, as some of them are interested in attending the school.

Patrick Baker, their coach, thinks his student-athletes have what it take to complete the race, even though it’s the first time running a marathon for all of them.

“They wake up early every Sunday morning when most teenagers are sleeping,” he said. “They show up on time and give their best effort with a positive attitude. They inspire me with their dedication and their trust in the training process.”

Their training schedule currently includes between 10-20 miles on their own during the week and a group run on the weekends of up to 15 miles. This is where they find encouragement and cheer each other on to finish their challenge.

“We run the best when we run happy and in gratitude,” said Baker, who will be running with them at the marathon. “I felt this could be an opportunity that could change their lives.”

— Amanda Busick