Looking for a cure one step at a time

Combining his Boston roots with his love of running, Homer resident Mike Illg is aiming for a prize more important than crossing the finish line. The community is invited to join Illg in his cause: raising funds for the Children’s Tumor Foundation. His goal is $4,000 to help researchers find a cure for neurofibromatosis.

“Specifically, I am running on behalf of an affable, 14-year-old young man, Leo Ogle, for the Children’s Tumor Foundation,” Illg wrote in a letter inviting others to join in his support of the Homer teenager.

Since Leo was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis, NF, at the age of 3, his mother, Denise Pitzman, has been a devoted fundraiser. Through training offered by the Children’s Tumor Foundation, formerly the National Neurofibromatosis Foundation, Pitzman has completed 11 marathons in Alaska, Hawaii and Florida. She has lost count of the amount of dollars she and others she has inspired to run have raised. Several years ago, Pitzman began the K-Bay 5K run in Homer as a local event to help fund NF research.

“A few years ago, (Illg) told me he wanted to do marathons and I said Children’s Tumor Foundation has a marathon program. He held onto that idea and it popped up again this year and he said, ‘Hey, I’d like to run Boston and I’d like to run to raise money to honor Leo,’” said Pitzman. “This is all Mike and the goodness of his heart, deciding to help.”

Getting into the Boston Marathon takes more than filling out a registration form and paying a registration fee. A qualifying time has to be met before a runner can even think of entering. A maximum number of runners are allowed in. With a greater interest in the 2014 race due to the bombing tragedy that cut the race short this year, the field of runners was expanded by 9,000 for 2014, opening it to 36,000 runners.  

It was Illg’s commitment to fundraising, however, that won him entry into the event.

“The Children’s Tumor Foundation had three or four runners that were not able to finish (in 2013) because of the terrorist attack. They were automatically able to run again in 2014,” said Illg. When he expressed interest in being on the CTF team, he found out there was one remaining opening. Only one. 

“It was like divine synchronicity,” said Illg. 

Being in Boston also has deep personal meaning for Illg. He grew up in Boston, attended his first year of college in the area, he ran the Boston Marathon in 1999 “and I’ve always wanted to go back,” he said.

Between now and the April 21 start of the race, Illg will be aiming for his $4,000 goal. There are several ways for others to join the effort, beginning with direct donations through the leosheroes.org website.

“All these funds go directly to the Children’s Tumor Foundation and it’s all tax deductible,” said Illg. 

He also has designed a T-shirt that says, on the front, “Alaska Strong,” referring to the “Boston strong” mantra popular after the Boston bombing. The front also has an outline of the state of Alaska. The back of the T-shirt says “Children’s Tumor Foundation.” The T-shirts are $20 each and can be purchased over the web. Businesses wanting to sponsor Illg can have their names added to the back of the shirts.

“And we have some other fundraisers in the works,” said Illg of ideas taking shape for bake sales, fun runs and some game tournaments.

Illg officially begins his training in December.

“It’s going to be very tricky, but it’s doable,” he said, knowing it will require a combination of treadmill time with braving the wintry weather. Adding to the challenge is his own severe hearing loss. “I don’t typically wear my hearing aides when I run because they can’t get wet.”

For Illg, the time commitment “is huge. It’s also a commitment for my wife, Cheryl, and my daughter, Madilyn. They’re part of this team, too.” 

For Pitzman and her son, Leo, “team” is an important concept.

“One of the really great things for Leo is that he has this really great feeling of community, friends and family around us being on his team,” said Ogle. “He’s had that since he was 3. It’s not something he takes for granted. It’s like this reassuring, constant thing he can count on.”

In spite of the challenges ahead, Illg is keeping his eye on the prize.

“You never know which dollar donated is going to be the dollar that helps fund the cure,” he said. “I’m honored, excited and humbled by this opportunity.”

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.

Mike Illg, runner


2014 Boston Marathon 

Reason for running: 

Raise funds for the Children’s Tumor Foundation research of neurofibromatosis



How to help:

• Donate directly to leosheroes.org; all donations are tax deductible.

• Purchase a T-shirt at booster.com/alaskastrong, purchase by
Oct. 28

• Become a business sponsor

• Sponsor by the mile

• Participate in upcoming bake sales, fun runs and game tournaments


For information: