By Kelly Burch
---- — LOWELL – Sherri Sarrouf likes to move. When the fitness instructor found herself bedridden during her pregnancy 14 years ago, she spent her days thinking about children and parents whose lives were disrupted by health issues for a much longer time.
“I knew I had to do something to help other parents and children,” she said.
After delivering a healthy baby girl, Sarrouf gave birth to Fitness for the Cure, an annual event to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Today, Sarrouf’s baby girl is a high school freshman, and her fundraiser is the largest event in New England to benefit St. Jude and has raised over $2 million.
The 14th annual Fitness for A Cure event will be held this Saturday at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium, where Sarrouf is hoping to raise an additional $350,000 to fund research and care for critically ill children.
“I firmly believe that those of us who are lucky enough to be healthy in mind and body have an obligation to help others,” Sarrouf said. “We tell the kids, if you fight (the disease), we will fight for you.”
Sarrouf did not have any personal connection to St. Jude when she began the benefit, but was struck by the high percentage of donated funds that went directly to research and care, and the hospital’s policy to never refuse care because of an inability to pay, she said.
Fitness for A Cure has become a two-part event, aiming to promote physical fitness and to get kids involved with helping other kids. The first part of the event is a daytime family fun day. Children can participate in a number of fitness-oriented activities, including throwing punches in a boxing ring, and shooting baskets. Singers Kristina Angelucci and the band Girls’ Night Out will perform. There will be face painting, healthy treats, and the chance to make art work to send to patients at Saint Jude. A few brave volunteers will even cut their hair on stage, in order to donate it to Locks of Love, an organization that makes wigs for childhood cancer patients.
“Little kids just want to do something,” said Sarrouf. “They are raw and eager, wanting to help.”
The evening gala features a cocktail hour with a celebrity meet and great. Stars such as former Patriots player Max Lane, and top doctors from St. Jude will be on hand to great guests. The dinner event will include a live auction, and a performance by country singer Darren Warren. It will be hosted by WBZ-TV’s Dan Roche.
Despite the big names, the highlight of both events will be a performance by the St. Jude Performance Team. The team is comprised of 110 children from the greater Lowell and Merrimack Valley area, ranging in age from first graders to high school students. Throughout the year, the team practices monthly, mastering an array of dance and fitness moves that are put together into an energetic performance for Fitness for a Cure, and for the team’s annual trip to St. Jude. Sarrouf began the Performance Team as a way to get children involved in helping others, while promoting their own personal fitness.
“They’re good kids, doing good things, and hoping that will inspire someone,” Sarrouf said. “They’re amazing. A normal sports season is a couple months, but these kids dedicate so much time, and it’s cute to see them all come together.”
The Performance Team’s mission goes beyond just physical fitness, however. Each high-school aged member of the team must organize their own fundraiser for St. Jude every year. In addition, many members of the team pay their own way to Memphis, Tennessee, to visit that patients that they work so hard to benefit.
“I’m building little philanthropists,” Sarrouf said. “We’ve shown them, and now they’re doing it themselves.”
All members of the performance team are important, but one member is particularly special. Nine-year-old Jordyn Boucher, of North Andover, knows first-hand the benefits of the life-saving work of St. Jude. When Jordyn was eight, doctors at Children’s Hospital told her parents that there was nothing more they could do to fight the cancer that she had been battling for seven years. They suggested that her parents offer her the best quality of life for her remaining weeks. However, Jordyn’s mother, Tracey, was unable to accept that.
She remembers thinking, “There’s got to be something else.”
The Boucher family contacted St. Jude, and were given the answer they had been hoping for. A new procedure developed at the hospital gave Jordyn a shot. Today she is cancer-free, and enjoying her new-found physical strength with the Performance Team.
“When I heard there was a local patient, I had to reach out, and show them that they are part of a huge community,” Sarrouf said. She invited Jordyn and her sister to join the Performance Team, and offered their parents crucial local support.
Even when the cases are not as dramatic as Jordyn’s, Sarrouf has found that Fitness For a Cure and the St. Jude Performance Team help people in more ways than fundraising.
“People meet, and something good comes of it,” she said.
If You Go What: Fitness for a Cure, fundraiser for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. When: Saturday, March 16. Family event at 12:30; Evening Gala at 6 p.m. Where: Lowell Memorial Auditorium, 50 E. Merrimack St., Lowell. How: Tickets are available online at www.fitnessforacure.com, or by calling 617-965-5262. Family event tickets $35 (adult), $15 (kids); Gala tickets $150.