Will Spencer is running the Dodge Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon to raise money for Alyssa McElfresh, a 9-year old battling a rare brain tumor.
Written by: Duncan Larkin
The Navy SEALs, the fighting elite of the United States military known for carrying out super-secret, high-level missions, usually shy away from bringing attention to their efforts. But sometimes, even the SEALs will step out from the shadows to help a person in need.
Will Spencer, a 38-year old member of SEAL Team One based out of Coronado, California, will be running the Dodge Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon on Sunday alongside his friend, Pastor Glenn Hirishiki. Spencer is running to raise awareness for Alyssa McElfresh, a nine-year-old girl battling a condition known as Pilocystic Astrocytoma. The rare brain tumor that threatens her sight, and her life.
The fact that Spencer is running in Alyssa’s honor is pure coincidence.
“One night, several months ago, my wife was reading an e-mail and asked me if I new somebody named McElfresh,” he recalls. “I told her that I worked with a guy named Ryan McElfresh. My wife then began telling me about the e-mail and how it described some of the hardships Alyssa has been facing while battling her brain tumor, which has already made her blind in one eye.”
Ryan McElfresh is Alyssa’s father. The e-mail went on to describe how the fourth grader has undergone countless tests and hospital visits to monitor the tumor that she has named “Olivia.”
Spencer was instantly touched. He had to do something for her. A SEAL doesn’t like to sit idle.
Even though he is constantly deployed and is part of a unit with an incredibly demanding training schedule, Spencer settled on the concept of doing something active to help raise funds for Alyssa’s treatment. In the e-mail that his wife read to him that night, he learned that Alyssa’s father was resorting to garage sales in order to raise money to pay for his daughter’s mounting medical bills and expensive travel. “Learning of this crushed my soul in a way that I had to do something to help,” Spencer admits. “For God’s sakes, wasn’t having a brain tumor wrong enough for this little girl?”
It was then the SEAL decided to deploy himself on his own personal marathon mission.
Hirishiki originally suggested that he and Spencer run the Dodge Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Half Marathon just for fun, but Spencer says, “when I found out about Alyssa, I talked to Glenn and told him my idea with the condition that we would have to run the whole darn marathon. Glenn has always wanted to complete a marathon but I think he was hoping to stair-step his way to that point. Dedicating ourselves to run for a higher cause gave Glenn no other option but to go all in.”
Working around Spencer’s demanding deployment schedule has been a challenge. Still, the two friends manage to log about 15-20 miles a week together. They’ve been preparing for the race over the past three months. Spencer describes himself as an “on and off” runner. He ran track in high school and was active in water polo and wrestling. Years of rigorous SEAL training and missions have left his body a bit damaged. He has a torn rotator cuff and a herniated disc in his back that he hopes to fix when he has some time off. Until then, Spencer admits it’s “nothing a bit of aspirin can’t fix.”
In order to focus attention on Alyssa’s cause, Spencer and Glenn are planning to carry an American flag with them the entire 26.2 miles. Spencer’s fellow SEALs have signed the flag, and he says he will present it to Alyssa before his next deployment.
“After completing the marathon in Alyssa’s honor, we can carry the message that Alyssa’s courage, resiliency, innocence and bravery is well noted and that she is not alone,” Spencer says. “Alyssa will know that she is loved and supported. Our hope is that many more people will capture this message, stop procrastinating and get after helping whoever they can however they can.”
“An added bonus would be if anybody felt called to help Alyssa out fiscally so she wouldn’t have to hold her own garage sales to fund raise anymore,” he continued. Spencer encourages those who are willing to help Alyssa to visit her blog at the Caring Bridge Web site.
Spencer and Hirishiki, who have a goal to beat Oprah’s finishing mark of 4:29:15, are hoping some of the live bands along the course will inspire them to do a “little jig or two” as they cruise past. Ultimately, they say, the race is not about the destination; it’s about the journey, and carrying out Spencer’s mission to raise awareness for Alyssa’s McElfresh’s condition.