Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
DES MOINES, IOWA (Des Moines Register) - Nick Krueger doesn’t only think a sweaty group of triathletes helped his family endure the last four years. “I’m convinced they saved him,” said Krueger of his plucky son Will, 8, who is cancer free after 1,215 days of treatment.
Team WillyK has raised $625,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society through its Team In Training program, money that Krueger says helped refine and improve treatments for Will and other kids.
It saved the family in other ways, surrounding them with love and a fighting spirit.
Members of Team WillyK rise in the dark to run and swim and bike and finish the day in the dark at fundraisers.
Some are in their 50s and have never competed in anything and some are as young as 19 and in mean shape. Some are stock brokers, others are housewives. Yet they have formed a bond around an 8-year-old boy, so tight that many arrived at Blank Children’s Hospital on June 1 and discovered the rest of the team was there, too. They had all heard it was Will’s last chemotherapy treatment.
It was a hard road to that day for Will, harder than swimming a mile, biking 24 and running six, and the triathletes reminded themselves of that when the alarm went off in the dark and they pulled on their workout gear.
“There are days you wake up and tell yourself it’s for a greater cause,” said Scott Campney, 40, of Urbandale, one of 62 Team WillyK members who will compete in the Sept. 18 Nautica Malibu Triathlon, making it the largest non-corporate team in the event. “You remember the first race, how you felt about Will.”
That first race seemed long ago. Five Krueger brothers, former Des Moines Buccaneer hockey players Scott, 42, Brian, 40, Nick, 37, Mark, 34, and Brad, 25, were joined by Campney when they decided to raise money for leukemia by running the 2008 Hy-Vee Triathlon, an event some team members will also do this weekend.
Will, of West Des Moines, was diagnosed that February at age 4 after a series of infections were followed by stomach problems, gray skin and searing shoulder pain. His grandfather had just died from leukemia the year before. Now doctors told Nick and Peggy Krueger that Will had it.
Peggy still carried an old raffle ticket she was sold by a triathlete raising money for cancer. The Kruegers won a motorcycle in the raffle. She kept it to remind herself how lucky they were. Then this happened.
Will faced bone marrow biopsies, spinal taps, joint weakness, hair loss and long hospital stays with a steady determination. Nick and Peggy almost lost him twice.
Meanwhile, oldest brother Scott took the lead, recruiting more athletes for Team WillyK. After the Hy-Vee race, they raised more money and ran a triathlon in Washington, D.C. The team grew to 27 for a race in Chicago. Last year, 50 did the D.C. race again. Now 62 Iowans are going to Malibu.
Ninety-percent of the team are beginning triathletes when they join. They have a coach and each athlete must commit to raising a substantial amount for the society — $3,700 each for the Malibu race.
Most say it’s mental, convincing yourself you can run, bike and swim that far. At her first team training — two laps around Gray’s Lake — Kari Dressen, 38, of Urbandale fretted that she couldn’t do it and finished a distant last.
“But everyone waited for me,” she said. “It made me realize, no matter what my time is, we are in this together for a greater cause.”
While Will faced chemo every Monday morning, they trained and raised money, sometimes going to several fundraising events a night.
On a recent night, as the team finished a run and was preparing for a training swim at the Urbandale Golf and Country Club pool, Kari Ramsey had already dropped off her daughter at soccer and attended a team fundraiser. After the swim, she had to pick up her daughter. Her husband is on the team, too, so they have also been busy raising the $7,400 required for Malibu while grandparents help watch their children, ages 13 and 9.
“It’s been a real challenge,” she said. “Also, I’ve never done anything athletic in my life. But I’ve had to overcome my fears and believe I can do this.”
The team has built lasting friendships. Big events such as a ’70s dance party and a golf tournament have raised thousands, but numerous small events such as garage sales, raffle tickets and bartending for donations bring them together often. They attend so many parties and fundraisers together, Scott Krueger said, “you almost get tired of drinking.”
This is no somber group. They know they have been lucky to be able to get up every day and run the streets of Des Moines.
On the last day of May, Scott Krueger sent this email:
I have had the pleasure of watching my kids score a winning goal or get 100% on a school test. Could you imagine the sensations of watching a 7-year-old walk out of the hospital after his last Chemo treatment and beating CANCER!!!! I am so pumped to announce that Will's last chemo treatment is this Wednesday!!
After Team WillyK members read it, many decided they couldn’t miss this. The crowd outside Blank Children’s Hospital quickly grew to more than 50.
Will emerged to roars. Team members cried.
“You would do anything for your child not to have it,” said Will’s father, Nick. “But it’s been a moving thing, this team.”
The Kruegers are not done raising money and want to give back. Nick was making plans to rise at 5 a.m. for a bike ride with another team member, while standing outside the pool as the day turned dark. Peggy had just returned from a fundraiser with new baby Jack on her hip and younger son Charlie, 5, running circles around Will. She still carries that winning raffle ticket.
They still feel lucky. They look at their son Will the way many parents do, reminded that children help you see the world through fresh eyes.
All Will wanted to do during those tough months, even when he felt ill and weak, was play. So he did.
The triathletes carry that message. They party and run, swim and bike. They play.
Copyright 2013 Des Moines Register
Updated 627 days ago Article ID# 1191330
Leukemia & Lymphoma Society