In August of 2009, four year old Hayley Hart was diagnosed with B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. As family and friends gathered around Hayley to join her battle against cancer, the slogan “Hang Tough Hayley Hart” came to be. Shortly thereafter, four men decided to form Team Hang Tough Hayley Hart (HTHH) and ride their bicycles in Hayley’s honor in Race Across the West (an 860 mile race from Seaside, California to Durango, Colorado). As the race approached in June of 2010, one of the men was unable to participate. In order to race, they had to find a fourth team member. One of the racers had an athletic coach out of Colorado Springs and coach Brady Irwin was called in. The four men raced hard and won Race Across the West for the four man team category! Likewise, Hayley Hart continued to Hang Tough and won her battle against cancer by finishing treatment in remission in November of 2011. Hayley continues to do well and has received her annual health clearance!
Shortly after Hayley finished treatment, Team HTHH decided that in order to celebrate Hayley’s victory, they should band together again, and do the full Race Across America (a 3,000 mile race from Seaside, California to Annapolis, Maryland) in June of 2012. By this time, Brady Irwin had moved his wife, Janelle, and daughter, Katelyn, to Tallahassee, Florida. Michelle Hart (Hayley’s mom) and Janelle Irwin jumped to the task of finding a great cause for Team HTHH’s race. We joined with CureSearch for Children’s Cancer as a platform to raise awareness and funds for Pediatric Cancer research. Michelle and Janelle planned a fundraiser dinner and silent auction event, Gritz and Glitz. The event was a great success and over $13,000 was raised in one night for CureSearch. A few months later, the men raced their bikes across the country completing the race in six days, two hours, and eight minutes in fourth place. It was an incredible finish for Team HTHH while honoring Hayley and trying to make a difference for pediatric cancer research the entire route. During Race Across America, Michelle had shared her vision with Janelle regarding creating a “Hang Tough House” in Tallahassee, Florida to assist children and families dealing with life altering illness. Although the idea was brilliant and showed promise, time moved on and so did the busyness of everyday life.
We all believed that the journey of Team HTHH was completed. We never could have imagined where the journey would take us. At the time of the race, Brady and Janelle were expecting their second child. A mere six weeks after the race, Grayson was born! A healthy, stout baby boy! Eleven days before his first birthday in August of 2013, their lives were forever changed again. Grayson was diagnosed with Infant T-Cell Leukemia. One of the very first people that Janelle called was Michelle Hart, not only a dear friend, but someone she considered a sister and had been through this very experience four years earlier. Grayson and his family lives by the slogan, “Tough As Nails” and he is responding wonderfully to treatment. He is scheduled to complete his protocol in August of 2015. As Grayson underwent treatment, Janelle felt compelled to join Michelle and make her vision come to life. Together, with the inspiration of Hayley and Grayson, the Hang Tough Foundation was born.