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In December 2016, Josh Antonuccio, a lecturer in Ohio University’s School of Media Arts & Studies, awarded a degree to his student Haden DeRoberts. Just two days later, DeRoberts passed away in hospice from acute myeloid leukemia.
This November, Antonuccio, of Athens, plans to honor DeRoberts’ memory when he and a team of family members run the New York City Marathon to raise money for cancer research.
When Antonuccio first discussed running the marathon with family members in December, he knew he wanted to run for Haden. DeRoberts had also been an advocate for cancer research. Before his death, he had worked with Hillel, Ohio University’s Jewish student organization, on the Got Swabbed? campaign, which tests students to see if they are a match for someone needing a bone-marrow transplant.
“They had said it was going to be a few months, at least, and then he passed away two days after we were there (at hospice),” Antonuccio said. “It was still just really on my mind about his story, especially just how he used his story of getting a bone-marrow transplant to raise awareness and start the Got Swabbed campaign.”
Janet DeRoberts, Haden’s mother, said she was excited and touched when Antonuccio told her his plan.
“It just keeps his memory alive; it keeps his spirit alive, which is awesome,” she said. “It keeps the human being that he was alive, as far as just the tenets by which he lived. I see that in other people, as far as Josh and his whole team of people doing good for others and doing good for the cause.”
Janet DeRoberts has continued working to fight leukemia, including volunteering at swabbing events that work to match people needing bone-marrow transplants with possible donors. Haden himself received a bone marrow transplant five years before he died.
“Often times I say that those last five years after he had his bone marrow transplant were just extraordinary, because I think he became the person he was going to become in a far shorter time than the rest of us do,” Janet DeRoberts said. “I get to see a little bit of that, of how his life impacted others, and how his passions were important to others.”
The New York City Marathon uses a raffle system to choose its participants, and Antonuccio and his family members came to an agreement: they would all enter the raffle, and if at least one of them got in, they would all work together to raise money for cancer. Now, the team calls themselves the Old Tonuccis, named by combining part of Antonuccio’s last name with Old, which is the surname of two other team members (Antonuccio’s brother-in-law’s sister and her husband). It consists of Antonuccio and five family members, led by team captain Kristen Norris, Antonuccio’s sister.
The Old Tonuccis are running as part of Fred’s Team, an athletic fundraising program that raises money for the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Each team member is running in honor of one or more people he or she knows who have been affected by cancer.
Currently, the Old Tonuccis are the third-largest fundraising Fred’s Team in the marathon. They’ve exceeded their original goal and have raised a little over $33,000 since this summer. Antonuccio’s Run for Haden Campaign has exceeded his original goal of $7,500 and is now on track to hit the new goal of $10,000.
To encourage people to donate, Antonuccio enlisted the help of his friend, a member of the band My Morning Jacket.
“Haden was a huge My Morning Jacket fan, so I reached out to those guys and asked if they’d be willing to donate some signed vinyl to help encourage people to give,” Antonuccio said. Anyone who donates $75 or more will be entered to win these three signed albums.
To donate to the Old Tonuccis, visit their Fred’s Team donation page at tinyurl.com/oldtonucci.