When Plainview second-grader Eytan Bennet returns to school this fall, he’ll have quite the response to the question, “How did you spend your summer?”
The 6-year-old is the top fundraiser to date in the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation’s annual Runyon 5K, slated for Yankee Stadium on Aug. 21. The event—now in its eighth year—raises money to fund cancer research by young scientists.
“Even at his young age, Eytan is advanced emotionally,” said his mother, Debra. “He gets other people’s feelings.”
Eytan is fundraising for the Bluebirds in Pinstripes, a team running in memory of Jill Konwiser, a 10-year-old girl who lost her battle with cancer more than 25 years ago and who was a dear friend of one of the Bennet’s closest friends. Eytan’s father Marc joined the team four years ago to raise funds in Konwiser’s memory.
In the meantime, Eytan, who was then too young to race, would come and watch the team. He excitedly waited until last year, when he was five and could finally participate.
“Eytan loves the Yankees, so that was certainly a factor in his participation,” his mother said. “But, we also wanted him to understand why we raise money and why it is so important. Though he is six, and does not fully grasp what cancer is, he does understand that the money he raises helps to fight a terrible disease. He raises the money as he says, ‘to help people who are sick.’”
The Runyon 5K marks the latest chapter in the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation’s long history with the Yankees. After the Foundation’s establishment in 1946, Joe DiMaggio was on its Board of Directors and Mickey Mantle was an active fundraiser. Damon Runyon, who died from throat cancer in 1946, was a New York writer who began his career as a baseball journalist. He revolutionized how the game was covered and often reported on Yankees games.
The young Yankees fanatic is one of 16 members of the Bluebirds in Pinstripes team and one of the youngest participants in the event this August. His parents—mom is a rabbi and dad is a pediatrician, in the Plainview area—say Eytan’s been lobbying friends and relatives for money and as of presstime he’s raised $2,346.
“Eytan has raised the money with a combination of support from us, reaching out to friends, co-workers etc., and from his own motivation,” said Debra. “He will ask family and friends to donate. In fact, his excitement in sharing what he is doing inspired two of his friends and their families to participate in the race this year.
His mother said that Eytan also receives fundraising support from the Bennet’s close family friend, Rena Fraade, whose sister, Sharon Lechleiter, organizes the team and grew up with Jill Konwiser.
His parents expect friends and family members to cheer Eytan on when he heads to the Bronx on Aug. 21, which should come naturally as Debra said her son has been active since the day he was born. He is a big sports fan and actively follows his favorite teams closely, but the chance to run is not what motivates Eytan—instead, it is his tendency toward empathy for others.
“He is so aware of other people’s feelings,” said his mother. “He notices when my husband and I have had a tough day and asks about family members who have been sick or struggling in some other way.
Last year, more than 2,700 people from more than two dozen states, Germany and Canada, registered for the event. Participants—baseball fans, runners, walkers and cancer survivors and their friends and family members—raised nearly $500,000. Since 2009, the Runyon 5K has raised more than $4 million for cancer research. As always, 100 percent of donations raised by participants will directly support the nation’s most brilliant young scientists, pursuing cures for all forms of cancer.