The 2022 Champion!

Jeremy was someone who was always willing to share his happiness and love with the rest of the world. He was a Marine veteran, a father, a husband, a son, and his mother’s only child, and he was always a joy to be around. In every situation, he gave more than he received.


Meet Our 2022 Champion - Jeremy Hernandez

Jeremy was someone who was always willing to share his happiness and love with the rest of the world. He was a Marine veteran, a father, a husband, a son, and his mother’s only child, and he was always a joy to be around. In every situation, he gave more than he received.

Jeremy was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2019. In typical fashion, he stepped up to the plate, seeking treatment in Austin and Seattle. In April 2020, he received a bone marrow transplant and had been cancer-free for about 18 months.

Jeremy learned early on how to deal with adversity. His feet had been clubbed since birth. His first year was dominated by foot and hip surgeries for septic arthritis. Regardless, he was always active and athletic, and he learned to walk and run normally. In Santa Monica, California, he was the only child of a single mother who studied gemology. After a few years in California, they relocated to Niles, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, where he attended Hynes Elementary, Golf Middle School, and Niles North High School. Throughout his school years, he enjoyed wrestling, soccer, and cycling.

After graduating, he joined the United States Marine Corps. While in the Marines, he wrestled for the All Marine Corps Team in Quantico, Virginia. He finished his Marine Corps service at Camp Lejeune and returned to Illinois, where he enrolled in Western Illinois University alongside his USMC buddy Mike Terranova. Jeremy was certain he was in the right place after learning about the school mascot, Leathernecks, which was borrowed with permission from the USMC.

He returned to Chicago after obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in Broadcasting from Western Illinois University. In 2013, he was named to the USA Triathlon team and competed in the international event in London. He eventually returned to Texas, where he settled in Austin. Felicia, his future wife, soon joined him, and they began to build their life together, with careers, a home in Austin, and a son on the way.

Unfortunately, he relapsed in September 2021 and died just a few months later on December 22, 2021, leaving behind his wife Felicia and their 4 year old son, Leo. He had a huge impact on so many people in his short 42-year life. Hundreds of people attended his memorial service in person and via zoom. Many people, from middle school to the present, shared their stories about how Jeremy had impacted their lives. Family, coworkers, friends, former colleagues, teachers, and even middle school classmates from all over the world shared stories about how Jeremy had impacted their lives in a variety of ways, from standing up to school bullying to talking someone out of suicide to simply sending an unexpected text message with a picture of their garden.

2022 Event Photos

The 2021 Champion!

Christmas used to be one of the Burton Family’s favorite times of the year. Whether it was the food, opening presents, playing games or sharing stories of past Christmas’s it didn’t matter, all that mattered was that they were with the ones they loved most, everything else just seemed to fall into place.


Meet Our 2021 Champion - Blake

The joy of Christmas is still there but it has seemed to have lost its luster that it once had, that is because December 26th , 2018 was the day Blake (four years old at the time) was emergency airlifted to Lurie Children’s Hospital. On Christmas 2018, Blake was acting a bit lethargic which was a bit odd for the youngster. Blake being the youngest of four siblings was typically chomping at the bit to open presents but not this season. Blake passed at opening presents and rather wanted to relax on the couch and watch his favorite cartoon. Blake’s parents thought it might be a virus he is going through and didn’t think that much about it.

The next day, Blake had mentioned he had some back pain and was still acting a bit strange so needless to say his parents made the decision to take him to the Doctors office. This was the day their lives changed forever; Blake was diagnosed with advanced leukemia the day after Christmas. Hearing the dreadful news was devastating.

Blake Burton is now six years old and still fighting for his life. In two years, Blake has endured more suffering than anyone should go through in their lifetime let alone an innocent child. He should be out playing with friends, scraping his knee, climbing trees, catching frogs, eating too much candy but he is not. Sadly, Blake spends most of his time getting poked or pricked.

In July 2020, Blake was allowed to leave the hospital and relocate temporarily to the Ronald McDonald house. In early August 2020, he was allowed to return home and with the help of his beloved Aunt Suzie he was able to raise +$400.00 dollars at a Lemonade Stand they had setup. Guess what Blake did with that money? Yup, you guessed it. He donated it to the cancer floor of Lurie Children’s Hospital. On August 31 st , 2020 we received the best news yet – the test results came back from the bone marrow and lumbar procedure and Blake was cancer FREE!!

In July 2021, Blake had another bone marrow replacement in July which was successful. He is cancer free at the moment but constantly dealing with checks and med adjustments to make his body continues to accept the transplant. He is starting first grade this month. “He wants to play golf, take karate, eat s’mores everyday and play with all his friends!”

Blake has the heart of a warrior and the determination of a CHAMPION. He is kind, selfless, funny, courageous and an inspiration to all of us. Blake was given a choice and he has chosen to fight! He is not ready to give up! We stand behind Blake every step of the way. WE BELIEVE IN BLAKE!

2021 Event Photos


Meet Our 2019 Champion - Ronda

As announced at the Birdies for Cures event on September 15, 2018, Rhonda Kokot is our 2019 Champion. Rhonda’s cancer journey began on December 28, 2001 when, at the age of 29, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, an aggressive blood cancer. After undergoing several rounds of chemotherapy, Rhonda took part in a clinical trial that tested the efficacy of using umbilical cord stem cells for adult stem cell transplants. Fortunately, her transplant was successful and, 16 years later, Rhonda is cancer-free and living a healthy, normal life.

After her recovery, Rhonda vowed to make cancer research her passion and purpose. In 2008 she started on a challenge to run a half marathon in every state and raise $100,000 for cancer research. (Today she has 2 states remaining and is very close to reaching her fundraising goal.)

Rhonda is also a board member at Gateway for Cancer Research. Gateway’s mission is to help shape a world in which a cancer diagnosis is no longer feared. To do that, Gateway funds clinical cancer research trials for today’s cancer patients – treatments that help patients live longer, feel better or conquer cancer today. Gateway’s singular focus on funding cancer research, coupled with underwriting support from Cancer Treatment Centers of America, enables Gateway to use 99 cents of every dollar they receive for cancer research.

Rhonda is thrilled to receive the honor of being named the 2019 Champion and looks forward to working with the Champions for Cures team to direct fundraising dollars to Gateway for Cancer Research.

Rhonda Kokot

Rhonda has chosen Gateway for Cancer Research to receive the 2019 proceeds.

2019 Event Photos

Randy Kingdon

Randy’s family chose the University of Chicago Prostate Cancer Research group to receive donations made in his honor. Dr. Russel Szmulewitz and his team at U of C will be using this money to advance state-of-the-art imaging and genetics techniques in an effort to optimize prostate cancer diagnosis and management. We made a $81,516 donation in Randy’s honor.

The 2018 Champion!

As announced at the Birdies for Cures event on September 16, 2017, Randy Kingdon was our 2018 Champion. Randy bravely fought prostate cancer for eleven years before passing away on September 15, 2017. Randy’s wish was for the proceeds for 2018 to be directed towards prostate cancer research. His family has chosen the prostate cancer research program at the University of Chicago that worked along with Randy’s doctors in Peoria, IL to provide treatment. Randy was the father of our co-founder, Eric “Pete” Kingdon.

From Randy’s son, Eric:

To put words on paper to summarize why my father was a champion in his fight against cancer is tough to do, and that’s because words cannot do justice for the courage, strength and determination he showed in the 11 years he fought this terrible disease. Eleven years….all the while still farming almost every day, taking care of his family and living life to its fullest. As I reflect on all he went through without so much as one complaint, it’s impossible not to admire his courage. If I’ve learned anything throughout this, we should all live each day as if it were our last and cherish the ones we love to our fullest.

Part of the reason my father was been able to continue his fight as long as he did was the advances in Prostate Cancer research over the last 10 years. For a disease that at one time only had 1 or 2 treatment options there are now over 10 with many more being developed. This is all the result of experimental cancer research that is often funded through charities like this. As we look to 2018 for our purpose and where the money we will raise will go, my father’s request was prostate cancer research be that purpose. Our family has specifically chosen Prostate Cancer Research at the University of Chicago to receive 100% of the proceeds for 2018. Hopefully with your continued support, we will someday live in a world where we don’t have to watch our loved ones fight this terrible disease.

2018 Event Photos