Center for Community Engagement

Jog for Jill coming to Amherst to raise awareness, funds for lung cancer foundation

Story by Reilly Horan '13, photo by Sam Tang '15. Members of the women's lacrosse team, left to right: Sarah Spector '15, Priscilla Tyler '15, Hillary Densen '13, Lizzie Paul '16, Devin O'Connor '16.

Hillary Densen ’13 is standing up to lung cancer—and organizing other student-athletes at Amherst to do the same.  Densen is teaming up with her lacrosse teammates and Jill’s Legacy, a lung cancer awareness organization, to produce a 5K race to raise funds and awareness about a severely underfunded and misrepresented disease.

On Sunday, October 21, Jill’s Legacy will host the inaugural Jog for Jill Amherst 5K Walk/Run at Amherst College.  Proceeds from registration fees and donations will go directly to lung cancer awareness and research.

Densen is organizing the event, with the help of some of her teammates on the women’s lacrosse team.  They have set a fundraising goal of $15,000 for the race.

“The Jog for Jills that happen on many college campuses are to honor a 22 year-old college student-athlete named Jillian Costello, who was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer during her time at UC Berkeley and died a year later,” Densen explains. “Jill’s Legacy is an all-volunteer advisory board to the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation (BJALCF) that was created to mobilize young people, erase the stigma of lung cancer, and raise money for research.”

While Densen is inspired and motivated by Jill’s story and the mission of Jill’s Legacy, her connection to the cause runs deeper still: her aunt was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in March 2010, despite being a healthy, non-smoking woman all her life.

“Research for this disease is so underfunded because there’s a stigma that all people who get lung cancer are smokers who put themselves at risk.  It’s just not the case, and it’s not just my aunt,” Densen explains. “There is a huge population of non-smokers who are getting diagnosed with lung cancer. It has the lowest survival rate of most other cancers —15.5%—and has stayed that way for the past forty years due to lack of funding and awareness.”

When Densen first learned about Jill’s Legacy, she knew she had to bring a Jog for Jill event to Amherst.  She teamed up with Darby Anderson, who’s a board member for Jill’s Legacy and was Jill Costello’s roommate in college, to organize the event.

“I worked with Hillary to come up with an action plan for organizing a Jog for Jill on her campus,” Anderson comments. “Hillary is a part of a larger movement. We’ve grown tremendously in the past year: in 2011, we had two Jogs for Jill on college campuses. In 2012, we are planning twelve.”

Jill’s Legacy has a program specifically designed to connect with college students and enable them to produce an event on his or her own campus.  “This is an event that really resonates with college students, especially student-athletes,” Anderson remarked. “They really feel the connection to Jill and her story.”

Priscilla Tyler ’15 and Lizzie Paul ’16 are two of Densen’s teammates who comprise a five-person team to help her organize the event.  In helping to produce this event, the two are also working to establish a culture of community engagement on their own team and in the athletic department as a whole.

“Community engagement allows people to be a part of something much bigger than what they experience in their little bubble,” Tyler reflects. “Working within your community promotes self-growth, and is a way to do something unselfish to benefit other people; altruism—committing to taking care of the interests of another—is very important to me and my team.”

“Working together for a worthy cause off the field is a really good, healthy thing for your team, too,” Paul adds.

Anderson believes in the power of young people, especially student-athletes, to make a difference in their communities: “Athletes are leaders on their campuses: if a student-athlete stands up about lung cancer and says, ‘This could be me. This could be a teammate. This could be a friend. We need to do something about this,’ people will listen.”

To get involved with the Jog for Jill on Amherst’s campus, visit jogforjillamherst.com to register or donate.  You can also contact Hillary Densen (hdensen13@amherst.edu) if you have any questions.  To learn more about Jill’s Legacy, visit www.jillslegacy.org.

Jog for Jill Amherst 5K Walk/Run will take place on Sunday, October 21.  Registration outside of Orr Rink will begin at 11:00 a.m. with a 12:00 p.m. shotgun start for the race.

Reilly Horan ’13 is one of three Athletics Liaisons for the Center for Community Engagement. Athletics Liaisons connect athletes and coaches to the resources of the Center for Community Engagement and work to create a sustainable culture of service within the Athletics Department. For more information, visit Athletes in the Community. If your team is looking for community engagement projects, contact Roshard Bryant ’13 at rbryant13@amherst.edu or Irene Hickey ’13 at ihickey13@amherst.edu for advice and resources.

If your team just completed a community engagement event, contact Reilly Horan ’13 at rhoran13@amherst.edu so that the campus becomes more aware of what your team is doing to get involved.  For more information, visit the Athletics Liaisons' webpage.