On an average Friday night, while many college students prepare for a jaunt down Beale Street, Rhodes College senior Adam Cruthirds sets his alarm for 6 am. He’ll wake up before the sun with a clear intention: to run for three hours straight in preparation for his first St. Jude Marathon.

“It’s kind of a different journey than most kids,” says Adam, whose training schedule involves running 30 miles per week. But his motivation goes far deeper than just achieving an athletic milestone.

As a cancer survivor, spokesperson for St. Jude, and advocate for childhood cancer awareness, Adam has committed to raising one million dollars for the hospital that saved his life. Adam’s Army—an organization founded by the Adam family [mother Connie, father Art, sister Skyler, and Adam]—secured nearly $900,000 over the past three years. With only $100,000 left to go, Adam is pushing for the million mark by Dec. 7, when he will cross the finish line at the 2019 St. Jude Marathon.

After doctors diagnosed him with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in July 2014, Adam began a year of treatment at St. Jude. He spent most of that year in the hospital, away from his high school friends and isolated from the joys found in being a normal teenager.

Connie Cruthirds, his mom, says, “He went from having a ton of freedom to being like a trapped animal. For a while, he was just angry and frustrated. He said, ‘I have to do something about this, or my attitude is going to kill me first.’” Adam began speaking at St. Jude events and realized that he not only had a passion for advocacy, but also a knack for it. By the time he completed his first year of treatment, entering into his senior year of high school at St. George’s Independent School in Germantown, Adam had made up his mind that he would learn how to raise 100,000 dollars for St. Jude as his senior project.

“I had close friends die during their treatment just in that first year. I had to step back for a second. It felt like too much to manage, but then I decided to give back,” says Adam, whose school friends and church community rallied behind him to make the $100,000 goal a real possibility. Adam even presented a marketing plan to CEO Richard Shadyac who heads ALSAC, the awareness and fundraising organization of St. Jude.

“In May 2015, Adam was a spokesperson at the nation-wide walk/run event, which is when Adam announced that he was going to learn how to raise $100,000. Rick Shadyac turned to him and said, ‘let’s make it a million.’ Adam laughed at first, but then realized that Rick was serious. And he never looked back,” says Connie Cruthirds. With that, Adam’s Army was born.

“Adam is a natural leader. His compassion for others, sense of community, and work with St. Jude speaks to his overall character,” says Austin Barringer, former president of Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity, one of the many organizations Adam has dedicated time to during college. Despite only finishing treatment in February 2017 in the middle of this freshman year, Adam has managed to become a leader on the Rhodes College campus. He served as the Health and Safety coordinator for his fraternity and currently serves as a Peer Assistant, Diplomat, and Day scholar. In May, he was a Truman Scholarship finalist and nominated as a Top 40 Change Maker in Memphis.

Although Adam may seem unstoppable, his full recovery is something he describes as a work in progress. Battling survivor’s guilt and side effects from treatment, Adam speaks candidly on his struggles with mental health.

“One thing that is overlooked all over the country is that the mental side effects post-treatment are worse than the physical side effects. When I was sick, I wasn’t able to process anything that was happening—losing friends, losing part of high school and part of college. It’s taken a toll on me, but I tell myself that I’m here for a reason,” says Adam.

As a family, the Cruthirds prioritize overall wellness. For Adam’s mother, Connie, the stress of having a child in treatment led to overeating and extreme fatigue. However, in the last year of Adam’s treatment, she found her way back to health and has lost 100 pounds.

“By last April, things were so bad that my own counselor suggested I go to someone else for trauma treatment. I started a whole new plan to work on my inner being, and heal from the inside out,” says Connie, who now wakes up at 5 am almost every morning to meditate, write, and keep up with her gratitude journal. She includes her husband and daughter in different aspects of her wellness routine.

“Some days it’s as hard as heck, but we’re a team of four all figuring it out together, and we’re making every day count,” says Connie, who attributes her success in wellness to fitness coach and trainer Lisa Sanchez at Energy Fitness. Lisa trains Connie twice a week and worked with Adam to rebuild his muscles after treatment. She now helps to monitor Adam as he prepares to run the full marathon.

“As he’s grown over the years, I’ve seen him become more mindful and aware of his overall health, not just getting his physical strength back,” says Lisa.

As graduation approaches, Adam has big plans for the future. He will graduate with a degree in Political Science and a minor in Business. He hopes to experience living in a new city. He also plans to interview for a prestigious post-grad scholarship that would take him around the globe, researching a topic of his choice. For the next phase of his life, Adam will take a well-deserved break from being an important face of St. Jude’s advocacy.

“Surrounding myself with cancer and the medical atmosphere can feel overwhelming. There’s time that’s needed to heal. But this mission won’t stop after the million mark,” says Adam, who has accomplished a remarkable feat, despite the most challenging circumstances. Now it’s up to us, the Memphis community, to make sure that we not only reach one million together, but that we carry Adam’s mission forward in thanks for the incredible impact of his efforts.

To donate, visit Stjude.org/adamsarmy

By Lydia Podowitz

Photo by JoLaura Bell