mestrong 5k downtown deland

Florida Cancer Specialists and local Rotary Clubs to keep the DeLand tradition alive

The ME STRONG 5K, a DeLand tradition of 10 years, will live on under new leadership from the Florida Cancer Specialists Foundation and West Volusia Rotary Clubs. While the race’s founders had planned for the 2022 5K earlier this year to be ME STRONG’s last, they’ve found successors to keep the race and the charity going.

“Everything really has fallen into place,” ME STRONG founder Linda Ryan told The Beacon.

The Florida Cancer Specialists Foundation, the nonprofit arm of Florida Cancer Specialists and Research Institute, will take over the financial aspects, while a coalition of the local Rotary Clubs will coordinate planning the race and the events surrounding it.

Florida Cancer Specialists Foundation Development and Event Manager Kristie Teal said the nonprofit is looking forward to continuing what made the event so special to DeLandites to begin with.

Teal lives in Tallahassee, but even through watching videos of the race, she said she could tell how well-loved it is.

“You can just feel that this is literally a communitywide, everyone-coming-together, really magical event,” Teal said. “Our hope is to keep that same feel.”

The foundation’s executive director, Lynn Rasys, said she believes ME STRONG and the Florida Cancer Specialists Foundation share a common goal: giving back to cancer patients.

“There is great synergy between our mission and the mission of ME STRONG,” Rasys said in a press release. “We are elated to carry on the great tradition of ME STRONG and look forward to welcoming participants and race spectators from Central Florida and across the country in February 2023.”

Like the ME STRONG nonprofit, the Florida Cancer Specialists Foundation gives money to cancer patients to help pay for their bills.

“They give very similarly to the way we do,” Ryan said.

Plus, she added, salaries for the foundation’s employees aren’t paid for with donations. Like ME STRONG, none of the money raised will go toward paying the organizers.

While Florida Cancer Specialists has doctors who work locally, none of the foundation’s staff are located in DeLand. That’s where the Rotary Clubs come in.

A coalition of the Rotary Club of DeLand, the DeLand Breakfast Rotary, the Rotary Club of Downtown DeLand, the Rotary Club of DeBary-Deltona-Orange City and the Rotoract Club of DeLand will help organize the events on the ground.

“The five West Volusia Rotary Clubs are all very excited about helping the ME STRONG 5K return to DeLand,” Karen Weiss of the Rotary Club of DeLand told The Beacon. “Helping cancer patients and their families is an incredibly worthy cause.”

Weiss will serve as the liaison among the Florida Cancer Specialists Foundation, the ME STRONG founders and the Rotary Clubs planning the 5K. Each club will participate in the planning process by way of various committees.

Downtown DeLand Rotary Club President Aaron Preston said the decision just makes sense.

“Supporting the ME STRONG 5K is an obvious choice for the Rotary Club of Downtown DeLand,” he said. “Two of our best members — Matt Birnie and Kendrick Thomas — have been instrumental in the success of ME STRONG for years. I don’t see any scenario where the Rotary doesn’t step in to help carry on this DeLand tradition.”

Ryan thought it made sense, too.

“Rotary is such a powerhouse that they have not only the manpower, but they have the desire,” she said. “They know how to do events, they know how to volunteer, they know how to fund-raise, and, operationally, host amazing events.”

While the 2022 ME STRONG Victory Lap would have been a bittersweet end to the DeLand tradition, bringing thousands to the city’s streets to raise money for cancer patients, the tradition will live on, and the founders will continue to support it behind the scenes.

The 2023 ME STRONG 5K will take place on Saturday, Feb. 4. More information about the race will be available on the ME STRONG Facebook page, HERE, and the organization’s website, HERE, as the 2023 starting line approaches.


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