2017-09-21 / Front Page

Hugs from Hayley marks 10 years

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer


The Hugs From Hayley 5K was started in 2008 to help raise money for the Desjardins family when their eldest daughter Hayley needed treatment for aplastic anemia. The race has raised more than $100,000 for Maine Children’s Cancer since then, and introduced the family to longtime runner Allyn Genest. From left, Michael Desjardins, Hayley Desjardins, Maddie Desjardins, Allison Desjardins and Genest. (Grant McPherson photo) The Hugs From Hayley 5K was started in 2008 to help raise money for the Desjardins family when their eldest daughter Hayley needed treatment for aplastic anemia. The race has raised more than $100,000 for Maine Children’s Cancer since then, and introduced the family to longtime runner Allyn Genest. From left, Michael Desjardins, Hayley Desjardins, Maddie Desjardins, Allison Desjardins and Genest. (Grant McPherson photo) SACO – Hayley Desjardins has spent more time in the hospital than most freshmen in high school. The Thornton Academy ninth grader missed much of the previous two years of school due to complications from aplastic anemia, a rare bone marrow disease in which the body can’t produce enough new blood cells. Hayley’s first episode with the disorder came when she was 5 years old.

Her family and the Biddeford-Saco Elks Lodge held the Hugs for Hayley 5K Run and Fun Walk in 2008 to help pay for Hayley’s treatments. The following year as Hayley’s condition improved, the name of the event was changed to Hugs from Hayley and all proceeds from the race went to Maine Children’s Cancer Program. The race has raised and donated $100,000 to Maine Children’s Cancer since 2009.

This year’s 10th annual race will be held at 7 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 24 at the Biddeford- Saco Elks Lodge, 68 Ocean Park Road, Saco. It’s the first year the race will be held on a Sunday, which Hayley’s parents hope will allow more families to attend. In the past, the race occurred at the same time as soccer games and cross-country meets.

“We changed the date to Sunday in the hopes of getting more children involved,” said Hayley’s father, Michael Desjardins. “Our goal is to change the race to be toward kids helping kids. With how much support our community and school gave when Hayley was sick, we’d like to see kids help other children.”

Hayley hopes to walk in this year’s race. Because she spent so much time in the hospital the last two years unable to move, she lost much of her muscle tone and developed scoliosis. She also has to have her blood drawn every six weeks due to high iron levels from the many blood transfusions she needed while she was in the hospital. Despite this, Hayley plans to manage the girls’ varsity basketball team at Thornton Academy this year and will remain a performer with The Dance Company, which she began when she was 7. Hayley also recently received her driver’s permit.

“I’ve been feeling really good. I had my Boston Children’s appointments changed to just once a year, which is a really big thing. Next time I go is in the middle of October,” said Hayley, 15.

This year’s race is an important milestone for another York County resident. Sept. 24 will mark the 67th race of the year for Sanford resident Allyn Genest, as he celebrates turning 67 years old. Genest first ran the Hugs from Hayley 5K in 2011 where he made an unexpected discovery. After Genest met another man with the same last name, the two began asking each other questions to determine if there was a connection. As it turned out, Genest’s first cousin is Michael Desjardins’s sister-inlaw’s father.

“I go to family functions all the time, they took me right in,” Genest said.

Genest ran his first race in 2009 to benefit a mother who had lost her daughter to cancer. Prior to that Genest had no running experience to speak of. After Genest discovered family members at the Hugs from Hayley race in 2011, running took on even more meaning.

“From there Hayley’s race became the most special of the year to me. I push people to come do the race every year. I try the best I can to do everything I can,” he said.

Genest started pushing himself to do more races after his wife died of a heart attack in 2011. That year he did three half-marathons and two 5Ks in 22 days. Genest found a love for running and enjoys meeting new people at every race.

Michael Desjardins hopes Hayley’s race can continue to grow in the future with the help of the community. He and his wife Allison credit community support for helping the family cope with Hayley’s illness. They’re happy they can continue to pay it forward with proceeds from the race.

“We’re all about educating the public and letting them know what goes on in the state,” Michael Desjardins said. “We often hear childhood cancer is rare. When it affects you it’s not so rare. Four hundred children right here in the small state of Maine can’t go to school because they’re sick. Kids shouldn’t have to deal with this type of stuff. We ended up on the lucky end. Hayley is doing well and we’ll continue this race until we don’t need to fight any longer.”

Hayley’s sister Maddie, 13, had similar words of encouragement.

“Things will get better,” she said.

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