For BMS Student Caroline Fulks, Helping the Race to Cure Cystic Fibrosis Better Than the Race Itself

By Jeff Toquinto on July 28, 2013

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When Caroline Fulks crossed the finish line of the two mile race that was part of the 17th Annual Greater Clarksburg 10K in June, the Bridgeport Middle School student had done a whole lot more than finish a race and help herself to better health. The diminutive Fulks ran for the most noble of reasons – to help others.

Fulks, who will be going into the seventh grade this year at BMS, was running for Team Boomer, a competitive athletic group that is part of the Boomer Esiason Foundation that raises funds to help those with cystic fibrosis. And the path in which she arrived at helping the Foundation by raising hundreds of dollars wasn’t created by wanting to help someone in her own family battling the disease or someone she knew or had met personally. Instead , everything began with a speech contest and a conversation with her older sister about an individual she had never met.

Rachel Fulks, who was a senior at Bridgeport High School this past year, had been at school when she took part in an assembly featuring Jerry Cahill. Cahill is a 57-year-old who is living with cystic fibrosis. In 2012, Cahill had a double lung transplant, and despite the average life expectancy of someone with CF – a fatal and chronic respiratory illness – being 37, Cahill has fought on; beating the odds at every turn.

While so many battling cystic fibrosis have to avoid competitive sports, Cahill embraced the opportunity as a youth and then into college, where he became a pole vaulter for the University of Connecticut. Today, he even coaches the sport and remains active.

Cahill brought his message of perserverance to Bridgeport High School this past year. And eventually, that message, thanks to Caroline’s older sister made its way into the Fulks’ household.

Not long after Cahill’s appearance at BHS, Caroline Fulks was looking for a subject that would match the topic as part of her school’s Modern Woodmen Speech Contest. The topic was “A person who has overcome.” When she was talking to her sister, everything began to fall into place as she learned about Cahill and eventually be the first step of a unique journey that would end by running the streets of Clarksburg earlier this summer.

“Rachel told me that Jerry had been to Bridgeport High School recently and that he was very inspiring,” said Caroline. “I thought that he sounded interesting and was looking for a unique topic that no one else would choose. I ran on the Bridgeport Middle School cross country team last year and was amazed at his strength and determination.”

The story of Cahill soon became the story that Caroline Fulks would present in a Harrison County-wide speech competition – and win. And it would be the same story she would present at the West Virginia competition of the Modern Woodmen contest – and finish third.

“I really enjoyed researching about his life and the disease … I was amazed that he was able to do the things that he does while battling such a deadly disease,” Fulks said.

After the competition, Fulks was contacted by Natalie Stout Wainwright. Stout not only is a BHS graduate and is living here, she is also the program director for the Boomer Esiason Foundation. Wainwright let Fulks know that Cahill had heard about her speech and then proceeded to bring Rachel a copy of Cahill’s book, “You Cannot Fail,” as well as Team Boomer items.

It was after this that Caroline Fulks decided she wanted to do more than a speech. And since her family, including her father Paul and mother Julie are major proponents of running, they all talked about opportunities to raise money for Team Boomer by participating in the Clarksburg event.

“My dad runs in a local running group so I figured that they would like to get involved,” said Fulks.

They did.

With that in mind, young Caroline Fulks worked with Natalie Wainwright on what to do next. The next step was to send out letters to her friends and family asking for donations as she would be running in honor of Cahill, who not only is battling CF, but is the founder of Team Boomer. As for Wainwright, she was thrilled to work with someone who was helping the organization she’s involved with, but also doing it with a youngster from her home town.

“I literally got chills when her mother said Caroline wanted to do this,” said Wainwright, who said 90 percent of the money raised the Esiason Foundation goes back out to assist on numerous cystic fibrosis fronts. “To be that young and have the perception of what this is truly about speaks volumes. She’s helping make a difference and I think she knows that.”

The letter worked. In fact, it worked to the tune of raising $650.00 for the organization.

“That was all her,” said Wainwright of Caroline’s efforts. “This will impact a lot of people and it means the world for those who battle CF or know someone battling it.”

One of those individuals that it definitely impacted was Boomer Esiason himself. The former NFL great, whose son Gunnar is in his own battle with the disease, was touched by the efforts of Caroline.
“I am always amazed by the purity of heart and selfless generosity displayed by young people today. To hear of a sixth grader so impacted by Jerry's story - to hear that she wants to raise money and run for our fight against cystic fibrosis - is extremely humbling,” said Esiason. “Caroline's unselfish behavior is an inspiration to me and to everyone on staff at the Foundation. My sincerest and humblest thanks go out to Caroline, and I can't wait to see how this young girl continues to positively impact the world around her.”

As for what she accomplished, the youngster was quick to point out those who wore the Team Boomer shirts in the race. Along with Caroline Fulks, the other participants who ran or walked in the two-mile portion of the event were her parents and sister, Rick Haney, Beth Hess, Allison Hess, Bob Klenk, Matt Dearth, Dr. Joe Momen and Natalie Wainwright.

“I learned what it feels like to take the time to do something for someone else. One thing can turn into something so much bigger,” said Fulks.

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