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College student turns overseas race into fundraiser for friend

By Allyson Bird
Office of Development and Alumni Affairs

Ella Cahill was away at college in Virginia when she found out that her younger brother’s best friend had cancer.

Ella Cahill ran the Vienna City Half Marathon in honor of her younger brother's friend, Ben Schools, who is a cancer patient at MUSC.

Friends rallied around Ben Schools and even created a logo – it read, “Hang in there, Ben” atop a curling wave – that they plastered on car bumpers and social media profiles. The young surfer beat the disease after surgery and treatment in 2012 but then, just months before high-school graduation, the cancer returned.

This time, when Ella’s family found out, she wasn’t just away at the College of William & Mary. She was preparing to study abroad in Vienna, Austria.

Before she left Charleston, 21-year-old Ella had signed up for the Vienna City Half Marathon. She called her mother with an idea: What if she ran the race for Ben?

“I was hoping to bring the community together, even though I was 5,000 miles away,” Ella said recently.

She shared her idea with Ben and his family and asked, if she raised money in his honor, where she should send it.

“I wanted to leave it open to Ben and his family where the money would be best allocated,” Ella said. “He’s been getting very good care at MUSC, and it’s positively impacted his experience. We wanted to be able to do the same thing for other kids.”

Ella set a goal to raise $2,000 for pediatric oncology at MUSC. She sent an email to a few friends and relatives and then posted her campaign on Facebook. Within a week, she blew past her goal.

“People who I had never even met were donating. It was neat to see how far-reaching it was,” Ella said. “I think, for a lot of people, Ben was just inspiring.”

She wound up with more than $7,000 in gifts made in his honor.

“At one point, when I was $5 short of an even number,” Ella remembered, “my youngest brother donated $6.”

Ella returned to Charleston from Vienna this month, the same day as her brother and Ben’s high-school graduation party. She went straight from the airport to the celebration, where Ben could thank her in person.

"Ella's run was a physical representation of the incredible support I have received the entire way, and it facilitated an opportunity to support other children and families in this same situation," Ben said. "Our blessings have been manifested in our relationships with friends as well as those at MUSC, and I thank Ella and everyone for this encouragement and for walking alongside us." 

Ella heads to New York next week to begin an internship with the Yankees baseball team, before returning to Virginia for her senior year of college. She won’t be far from Ben, who starts at the University of Virginia this fall.