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Ella’s Army 5K draws large crowd in first year

By Christopher Roberson

Nearly 500 participants, from as far away as Cincinnati, Ohio, recently laced up their sneakers to be a part of the first annual Ella’s Army 5K Family Fun Run.

The Sept. 30 event was held at South Memorial Elementary School in memory of Ella O’Donnell. A 10-year-old fourth grade student at South Memorial, Ella passed away in November 2016 after an 11-month battle with brain cancer. During that time, Ella endured 33 rounds of radiation, 10 cycles of chemotherapy with two different drugs, an eight-hour brain surgery and a port surgery.

According to the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, four percent of federal government funding is earmarked for pediatric cancer research. Cancer continues to be the leading cause of death by disease among children, as only three pediatric drugs have been approved during the past 38 years.

As for the race itself, organizer Julie Butt said she was taken back by the hundreds of residents who came out from communities across Greater Boston and beyond. “That’s unbelievable for the first year,” she said, adding that hosting a 5K had been in the works for some time, and “We always wanted to do this from the beginning.”

Bridget O’Connell, 15, of Peabody, won the inaugural race with a time of 20 minutes, 28 seconds. Guido Iannalfo, 17, also of Peabody, crossed the finish line 19 seconds later.

Mayor Edward Bettencourt, an alumnus of South Memorial, also took part in the event. “I’m so thrilled to be a part of this special day,” he said. “Ella was such a special young lady.”

Jennifer Vaz, 37, of Peabody, ran the race with her nine-year-old daughter Victoria. “It was a good experience for the younger ones … It’s our first time and won’t be the last, Peabody’s the best,” said Vaz, adding that she and Victoria are already planning to return for next year’s race.

In addition, Robert Hall and James Mason were on hand from the Everett Police Department, where Ella’s father, Dennis O’Donnell, is a sergeant. “It was a great turnout for Ella,” said Hall, adding that the course was not overly taxing either – “I thought it was pleasant.”

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