FOREST CITY | The cornfields of Iowa were a welcome sight for Alex Lang Thursday as he entered the state for the first time in nearly four weeks.
“I missed that a little bit,” he said.
Lang, a Mason City native and recent University of Northern Iowa graduate, left San Francisco, California, on June 18 with a group of 27 college-aged students on a 49-day, 4,000-mile run to New York City to raise money and awareness for the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults.
On Friday, he arrived to The Majopa Training and Conference Center in Forest City to applause and cheers and the embrace of his mother, Shela, after running a brief stint along the traffic-heavy U.S. Highway 69.
“We’re so happy you’re here,” Shela said to the group once those not running piled out of two white passenger vans just shy of 4 p.m.
The stop marked the end of a roughly 130-plus mile run from Carroll, Iowa, where the group stayed the night before, and the halfway point on its more than 4,000-mile journey.
So far, they’ve ran through California, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska and Iowa.
Lang said on this trip he’s learned how much he enjoys nature and being outdoors, especially after running through Yellowstone National Park and seeing “neat waterfalls.”
The group, known as Team New York, is one of five, either running or biking, across the country as part of 4K for Cancer in an effort to “inspire hope and unite communities in the fight against cancer,” Lang’s fundraising page states.
As part of the 49-day journey, which consists of 10 rest days, Lang runs between six and 16 miles a day, and the others in the group do the same unless they’re injured. On Friday, he ran 11 miles between Carroll and Forest City.
“It was really nice,” he said, noting that talking with his fellow runners throughout the two-mile paired increments keep him motivated since they all know someone who has or had cancer.
For Lang, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in movement and exercise science with a minor in biology, decided to run because of his late high school cross country coach David Wilson. He ran cross country at Mason City High School, graduating in 2013.
However, he wasn’t initially interested in cross country but wanted to go out for football instead. Wilson saw his potential and reached out to Shela, who was also a teacher at Harding Elementary, to encourage him to try cross country.
Wilson was a mentor and role model for Lang and the team. His motto of attitude and effort encouraged Lang to always make the best of every situation, and he still carries those words with him today.
Wilson died from cancer in 2012. Lang recalled that even after long days of treatment, Wilson would still come to practice, and was always ready to work and focused on the students.
Wilson is one of the names that has been written on Lang’s calves as a reminder of why he is running. Others, include his grandfather and great uncle, who have experienced cancer.
“For me, personally that’s what I think about, what they’ve gone through,” he said. “We’re running for them.”
On Friday, Lang ran beside Emily Bourque of New Hampshire, and she said, “It’s a lot of fun.”
“[Alex] is probably my favorite person to run with so far,” she said.
Bourque said she decided to participate in 4K for Cancer because of family members who have had cancer.
When the runners arrived to Forest City, they was treated to what Shela called a “Mason City meal,” which consisted of sloppy joes, cheesy potatoes, sweet corn, watermelon, Oreo fluff and hot fudge from Birdsall’s.
“I’m excited to see some of my family tonight,” Lang said.
On Saturday, the group was scheduled to run to Northfield, Minnesota, before a rest day on Sunday.
The group will complete its 4K for Cancer on Aug. 5 in New York, and while he doesn’t have a job lined up afterward, Lang’s contemplating the public health or psychology fields.
“It’s nice to take some time to myself and try to figure that out a little bit,” he said
Shela said she’s proud of her son for participating in the cross-country run.
“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime that will maybe determine what path he takes next,” she said.
More than 70,000 young adults between 15 and 39 years old are diagnosed with cancer every year and face a variety of challenges, including fertility preservation, social isolation or lack of insurance, the fund’s website said,
The fund creates a community of support for young adults and their loved ones journeying through cancer by providing free services and resources.
As of Saturday, Lang has raised 90 percent, or $4,514, of his $5,000 goal.