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10-year-old keeps Pinky Swear promise

Brooke Goddard pedals her way to a finish at a fundraising triathlon event she took part in at Lake Nokomis this summer. Submitted photo

Cancer is a giant of a problem and one local girl has made a commitment to stand up to it.

Ten-year-old Brooke Goddard of Wadena found out about an opportunity to help those fighting cancer through the Pinky Swear Foundation three years ago. It's a foundation started by Mitch Chepokas who passed away from cancer at age 9. Mitch's sister is a good friend of Brooke's mom, Ashley Goddard. Through that connection, Brooke learned about how she could do her part in the battle against childhood cancer.

The Pinky Swear Foundation holds events in several states as a way to raise money to help kids with cancer and help their families with financial and emotional support. Brooke, who attends school in Verndale, has been involved in one of those fundraisers, a triathlon at Lake Nokomis for three years. This year she had a goal of raising $3,000 and she raised $4,007. That was the third highest individual amount among the 400 registered kids ages 6-18, according to Brooke's grandma Michelle Goddard.

While it was a big step to get involved in the triathlon the first year, staying involved for three years shows Brooke wants to make a lasting difference. She said what keeps her going is seeing those who have cancer and are suffering through the effects.

"I felt really bad because I would never want to have cancer," Brooke said. "It's such a bad thing, I felt so bad."

Every year Brooke watches children with cancer and their families share their story on the stage at the triathlon and her heart of compassion keeps growing. These All-Star Families talk about how Pinky Swear has helped them in some way. And while Brooke's heart keeps growing, so must her athletic abilities as she has to prove herself even more physically able next year. In the past three years she had to swim 100 yards, bike 3 miles and run a half mile. Next year, everything will double for her. Brooke said she likes to run and bike with her aunt, but she does little to prepare for the swim.

But preparing for the triathlon is a small part of the work as Brooke spends a month fundraising for the event. This year she even had a lemonade stand as part of her fundraising. Her grandmother said Brooke couldn't have raised all the money she did if not for the generosity of friends, family, the Verndale Lions and local businesses. But Brooke is now becoming a natural at it.

"After the first one it gets easier," she said.

Brooke's mom Ashley said it's been fun seeing her daughter grow and focus on this event. The first time her friend asked if Brooke would be interested, she was glad to hear her daughter wanted to get involved.

"She wanted to do it the first year, but she wasn't quite into riding a bike without training wheels," Ashley said. Within two days, Brooke figured out she didn't need those training wheels anymore. And Brooke's little brother, Bennett, though he's not yet ready to compete, plans to get involved, too.

"He has said that he wants to do what sissy's doing," Ashley said.

Proud of the event, Brooke's grandma Michelle hopes that more kids from the area might get involved too.

"We are impressed how organized it is ran and everyone is so positive and cheering the kids on!" Michelle said.

The Hy-Vee Pinky Swear Kids Triathlon raised over $90,000 this year to help those fighting childhood cancer. National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month started on Saturday, Sept. 1. Find out more about the Pinky Swear Foundation at pinkyswear.org.

The Pinky Swear story

In December 2002, nine-year-old Mitch Chepokas, terminally ill with bone cancer, withdrew the entire $6,000 from his savings account and put it in envelopes for the kids on the pediatric oncology floor at the hospital. After giving away all of his money, Mitch made a pinky swear promise with his dad to always help children with cancer and their families after he was gone. Mitch passed away on April 11, 2003, and shortly afterwards, the Pinky Swear Foundation was established by Mitch's parents, to honor the Pinky Swear Mitch made with his dad. To date, over $11 million has been raised to support brave kids battling cancer.