"An Ounce of Prevention" Walk Magazine

Road of Life chairman-emeritus and founder Rob Emrich lost his younger sister Keren to cancer when he himself was very young. Those feelings of despair and helplessness were brought back to him in college, when cancer again struck his family, taking the life of his cousin, Seth, a young rabbi. Rob felt compelled to do something, to strike back at this disease in a tangible, meaningful way. It was out of this desire that Road of Life was born.

In 2002, the Keren Emrich Foundation, named in memory of Rob’s sister, was incorporated and Road of Life was chosen as the public business name of the organization. Road of Life was originally envisioned as a fund-raising entity for innovative cancer research. Shortly thereafter, it was realized that a great need could be met and a bigger difference could be made, by working on prevention, specifically cancer prevention for children.

The mission of Road of Life is to educate children about the smoking, fitness and nutrition decisions they can make to grow up healthy and greatly reduce their risks of developing cancer later in life. Road of Life accomplishes this goal by designing and implementing innovative curricula aimed at third and fourth graders. These curricula use existing Ohio academic content standards, but incorporate them in an engaging health framework. So, as students learn about proper nutrition and the dangers of smoking, required math and social studies material are simultaneously reinforced.

Walking is one of the cornerstones of this program. In 2003 and 2004, Road of Life produced long-distance walks across the state of Ohio, from Cincinnati north to Cleveland. The first event, called the Bicentennial Walk, was a one-man trek completed by Emrich. The walk, presented in association with the Ohio Bicentennial Commission, raised public awareness about Road of Life and its mission.

Every mile of the journey was dedicated in honor or memory of someone who suffered from cancer. These names were then commemorated in a virtual monument hosted on Road of Life’s website, and the list was later commemorated by the Ohio Senate and House of Representatives. The Bicentennial Walk received a great deal of attention from the media and raised thousands of dollars for cancer prevention.

Road of Life was extremely satisfied with the results of The Bicentennial Walk, but wanted to create an event that would encourage others to get active and provide an outlet for that activity. With that goal in mind, in May 2004 the organization presented a second walk – Road of Life: Ohio 2004 – a relay which again stretched from Cincinnati to Cleveland. The relay format allowed members of the public to participate at any point along the route, as well as at special events in Columbus and Cleveland. The event also attracted the participation of several dignitaries, including the Mayor of Cincinnati, Charles Luken, and Ohio State Senator Ray Miller. Road of Life: Ohio 2004 was an opportunity to raise public awareness about cancer prevention, specifically using physical fitness and nutrition as an important and undervalued means of prevention. It also served as the backbone of Road of Life’s prevention program for fourth graders.

Road of Life’s programming works to change the fitness and nutrition habits of children by creating a program that encourages activity and healthier dietary decisions. In 2004, the program included: 1.  A 10-unit curriculum based on the Bicentennial Walk and Ohio’s fourth grade academic content standards, 2.  A three-lesson prevention sequence concentrating on nutrition and exercise, administered by college mentors, and 3.  Participation in a 2.5-mile walk along the route of Road of Life: Ohio 2004.

This program was piloted in two Columbus City Schools, Hubbard Avenue and Franklinton Alternative elementary schools. Approximately 50 fourth-grade students participated in the program, along with six college mentors from The Ohio State University. The program was met with great enthusiasm from teachers, students and mentors. Especially encouraging was the enjoyment students derived from something as simple as a long walk on a nice day. Road of Life is currently working to expand this program throughout the Columbus City School District and, eventually, throughout Ohio.

In 2005, Road of Life is excited to present the next step in its commitment to improving community fitness through walking. Road of Life is the sponsoring charity of the new walking division of the 28th Annual Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon & 10K, taking place on May 22, 2005 in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. For the first time in its history, this event is offering a walking division for both the marathon and half marathon. Road of Life is thrilled to be able to give walkers everywhere a chance to fully participate in this amazing event.  Road of Life is working with marathon directors to ensure that the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon & 10K will be a positive experience for walkers and that this marathon can become a destination race that attracts walkers from around the country. To that end:

• Walkers will begin the race at the same time as runners • The course will remain open for a full 8 hours, allowing plenty of time for completion of the race • Water and food stations will remain open throughout the race • Medals will be awarded to all participants.

Road of Life encourages men and women of all ages to come out in support of this event. A portion of the entry fee from every walker will be donated to Road of Life and its children’s cancer prevention programs. Participants are also urged to raise charitable dollars independently, through “per mile” or “completion” pledges. To register for the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon & 10K, please visit  www.clevelandmarathon.com. To learn more about Road of Life, its programming, and how you can help, please visit www.roadoflife.org.

Click here to see the full PDF article on Rob and Road of Life from Walk! Magazine.