While running a 5K, gorging yourself with pie, and learning about testicular cancer sounds like some sort of fever dream, for the past nine years, The Family Jewels Pie-K (formerly known as the Family Jewels 5K or Jaimeson Jones Memorial 5K), has been an annual March event at Saint Edward State Park in Kenmore, WA.
This event was developed by the Family Jewels Foundation, under its founder Nancy Balin. I had the opportunity to interview her in October 2018 and learn a little more about her story. Balin lost her stepson, Jaimeson Jones, to testicular cancer in 2010.
Prior to his passing, he had been a cross-country runner and enjoyed running through the landscapes of Saint Edward State Park. At Jaimeson’s Celebration of Life in October 2010, Nancy announced that she would would hold a 5K to commemorate his birthday in March.
How does pie tie into a testicular cancer related running event?
Pie was very important to Jaimeson for two reasons. First, Jaimeson was born on March 14, 1990. For math wizards, March 14 translates to 3.14, which is the mathematical phenomenon of pi. He also had quite the love of the edible type of pie and would request the decadent dessert on Thanksgiving and Christmas and his birthday. After he died, his family continued the tradition as a way to honor and remember him.
Though this year is the first event that was officially titled Family Jewels Pie-K, the foundation has used the hashtag #only5Kwithapietable for several years to advertise that there was pie to be had at the run. The pie has acted as a draw for the target demographic for testicular cancer awareness—males 15-44 and the people who love them.
In Balin’s words, “Once people hear that there is fresh homemade pie at the event, they say, ‘Wait, there’s pie??? Okay, I’ll come!’”
What happens at the Family Jewels Pie-K?
Though the event began as a 5K trail run, organizers have since added two more events to attract the non-running crowd. After hearing “Oh, I don’t run” countless times, Balin also implemented a one-mile trail walk. To counter “Oh, I can’t walk that far either,” she then started telling people that they could come and just sit and eat pie. Last year, the “0K Sit and Eat Pie” was added as an actual option on the online registration platform.
Much like many other 5K runs, there is a timing company, pumped up music, raffles, fundraising, and medals for all finishers. However, what you won’t find at other runs is the speech Balin gives before she releases the runners:
“I speak for a few minutes about Jaimeson and the fact that his embarrassment about his symptoms effectively killed him because he waited a year to tell us and hence was diagnosed very late, and I give my thirty-second lecture about testicles:
‘They shouldn’t have lumps or bumps, they shouldn’t hurt, and they shouldn’t be dramatically different sizes or growing or shrinking. But if you remember only one thing from this embarrassing conversation, make it this.
I know that you are down there all the time, because that’s what guys do. If you ever notice that something has changed with your testicles, DON’T WAIT. See a urologist ASAP and insist on an ultrasound.’
And then, I explain that [many] cases are found by partners, wives or girlfriends, and I say, ‘So ladies, while you’re down there, give ’em a squeeze!’ And they all laugh, but they remember it.”
After the inspiring speech, the starting gun goes off and the runners begin their race.
At the most recent race, Balin said, “People had a blast, from the feedback I’ve been getting from the survey I sent out. We had the best weather ever (51 degrees and sunny; it’s usually twenty degrees colder than that), and it was really fun!”
Where do the funds go?
In addition to raising testicular cancer awareness, the Family Jewels Pie-K is a fundraiser for scholarships for students who had had a sibling with cancer. The Family Jewels Foundation is currently supporting three local students with renewable four-year college scholarships. Until last month, all three siblings were in remission. Sadly, one of them had a recurrence at the end of January and just finished his first course of chemo. The first thing his mom did was quit her job, thus demonstrating how financially devastating childhood cancer is. Now that one of the kids has cancer again, the need for this fundraiser is more poignant than ever.
Though the need is now greater than ever, due to a very cold winter and ongoing construction at the park, there was a lower turnout (and thus less funds raised) in this year’s event.
What are the plans for the tenth annual Family Jewels Pie-K?
In a nutshell, plans for next year prove that the event is going to be epic!
Balin heard many years ago that doing things in years that end in zero is considered to be lucky. Next year, in 2020, will be the 10th annual race. Additionally, the planned date of the race falls exactly on Jaimeson’s birthday—the day he should have turned 30.
To mark that milestone, they aim to add a feature that they’ve never had before. Jaimeson had a bucket list, which one hopes to never have to make at such an early age. One thing that was on it that he never got to do was go up in a hot air balloon. The foundation plans to figure out how to get a hot air balloon to next year’s event.
Balin pictures “its ballasts as pairs of sandbags attached at the top, a la testicles. By hook or by crook, I’m going to figure out how to have a hot air balloon there.”
At the end of the day, Balin’s mission extends beyond the Pie-K
Balin tells people that you know she’s doing the work she’s meant to be doing. Often, after completing an event, she’ll go home and realize how much fun she had.
“I do that all the time, after talking to students in Health classes, meeting with Scouts, Rotarians, and Chambers of Commerce, putting on testicle-euphemism-punned events (Family Jewels 5K, Family Jewels Ball Crawl, my future wine walk “Check Out our Low-Hanging Fruit”), and coming up with new Nut Notes (“Too Chicken to Check Your Nuggets?”). I bring my Nut Huts (a portable self-exam booth), pamphlets, shower cards, stressticles (stress balls) and Nut Sacks (bags of peanuts) to #SaveGuysLives by educating about early detection of testicular cancer.”
She thrives on the possibility that what she always preaches to parents will actually happen:
“I couldn’t save my kid, so I’m trying to save yours.”
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