Everything about the Wayne Chicken Show was different this year, including the annual Chicken Run 5K. 2020 was the first year the race went virtual, the first time it wasn't held in conjunction with the actual Chicken Show and it was the first year some of the racers were international.
The 5K race always serves as a fundraiser for something or someone in the Wayne community or surrounding area, but this year, it was a cause near and dear to the hearts of organizers at Providence Wellness Center and Providence Medical Center - raising funds for IT director Jesse Titiml, who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia in February.
"He originally fainted while he was at work at PMC on the 24th (of February), so I got the call when he was in the ER," Jesse's wife Val said. "Treatment began on Feb. 28. It was very aggressive and they (his doctors) wanted to attack it, as aggressively and quickly as possible."
In years prior, the entire Titiml family got involved with the Chicken Run, but Val said they had no idea the fundraiser this year would be for Jesse.
"I actually didn't even know," Val said. "My daughter and I do the Chicken Run every year and then my husband and my son help direct runners where to go. I got a text from my friend that said '(Did) you know this year's Chicken Run is for Jesse?' I said, oh, I did not know that."
This year, due to COVID-19 precautions, the Chicken Run was held virtually and runners could track their own times between July 25-31. This also allowed people from, as it would turn out, all over the country and beyond to participate. Not only were there runners from 20 different states, there were also runners from Guam and Jesse and Val's native country, Palau. were encouraged to photograph themselves during the run either wearing their Chicken Run shirts, or their special "Jesse's Fight Is My Fight" shirts. In all, 181 runners helped make the 2020 run the second largest since organizer Heidi Keller has been involved.
"I didn't expect quite that many," Keller said. "I knew, because of who we were raising money for, that we would get a lot of support. I didn't realize how much they would bring from other countries."
Even Jesse got to participate. Keller said he was hospitalized for the last few days of the race, but the organizers decided to extend it to allow him time to finish.
"We extended the deadline so he could get better and, of course, the first thing he did after getting released from the hospital was complete the 5K up at the WSC track. He is such a fighter and inspiration to us all," she said.
That support was much appreciated from both Jesse, Val and their children, but their family and friends outside of Wayne.
"I received countless emails and messages from their family overseas, all extremely grateful for Jesse’s huge Wayne family and support system they have here. It was so humbling to hear from so many of them," Keller said. "They are pretty loved."
Once the race was finished and funds collected, the time came to present Jesse and his family the check, which should have been fanatic news, but an announcement just the night before the presentation brought some even better news - he was officially in remission. He has to continue doing blood work, but Val said he'll meet with his doctor later this year to get cleared to return to normal activities.
"He's happy," Val said. "He's in remission and he doesn't have to go through chemo."
When it came time to present the check, Val and Heidi conspired to brighten Jesse's day even more. The two organized the photo op so that any PMC and PWC employee who was free, could be in the picture.
"I kind of left that part out. I told him it was just going to be me, him the kids and Heidi in the picture," Val said with a laugh.
Throughout Jesse's fight with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, the Titiml family has had the support of the community, and Val said that's something they'll never forget.
"I still have tears in my eyes when I think of all the people. You don't know so many people are rallying behind you, cheering for you, and something like this happens and you think, 'oh, we are getting noticed'," Val said. "I would like to just thank them from the bottom of our heart. It's been overwhelmingly nice."
With the success of the 2020 Chicken Run 5K, Keller said she's hoping momentum continues and next year they're able to both implement a virtual race as well as an in-person race and have enough runners to bring out a company to keep official time.
"My hope is that we can get it big enough to be able to have a company come down and do all the timing for us so we don't have to do it, and that will appeal to a lot of the bigger racers out there so they can have an actual officially timed event," Keller said.