Coal Valley teen organizes first ‘adoption option’ race

COAL VALLEY — As a member of the Moline High School cross country team, Eric White has been in a lot of races.

On the morning of Saturday, June 26, the 17-year-old incoming senior will be leading two runs in Coal Valley, but the “winners” will likely be people he’ll never see.

Eric, a member of St. Maria Goretti Parish, is organizer of the first “Adoption Option” 5K road race and one-mile fun run. The 5K race begins at 7:30 a.m. at Coal Valley’s Muncipal Park and will wind through the town’s residential streets. The fun run follows at 9:30 a.m.

Proceeds will benefit the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, which was started by the founder of Wendy’s restaurants to promote adoption and assist the 123,000 young people in the U.S. who are in foster care.

Dave Thomas was adopted.

So was Eric White.

Both are giving back in thanksgiving for what they’ve received through adoption.

Eric was born at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria to a couple younger at the time than he is now.

“They loved me enough to let me have a better life,” Eric says of that young couple’s decision to place him for adoption through Catholic Charities.

Eric would become the second child adopted by Duane and Mary Ann White of Coal Valley, who at the time thought they could not have children. His older sister, Dana, is 21.

However, soon after they adopted Eric, the Whites did conceive a daughter, Lauren. Now 16, Lauren designed the logo for the “Adoption Option” run t-shirts. It depicts a mother and a father running toward a son and a daughter.

Eric hopes 200 people take part in his event Saturday, and by June 18 registration was already at 164. Sign up is possible, he said, until 7 a.m. on the morning of the race.

But Eric’s goal for the event involves a smaller number.

“If I can help one kid have a better life, that’s a successful goal for me,” he told The Catholic Post.

Planning the race has already brought its own rewards for both Eric and his family.

“It’s been a therapeutic thing,” he said, noting it’s been a difficult year in their family. His Dad’s father died in December and was buried on Christmas Eve. Meanwhile, his Mom’s father passed away on Memorial Day weekend.

“They would have wanted us to do this,” Eric said of his grandfathers, adding that race planning has “boosted our spirits.”

Eric said the daunting task of organizing a first-time event has also taught him “time management skills” and given him public speaking experience. He described his vision at a meeting of the Coal Valley town council, which unanimously approved the project after his presentation.

“My Dad was proud of me,” Eric recalled.

There have been hurdles as well for this cross country runner. Trying to obtain sponsors introduced him to rejection. He is grateful for the financial support of Blackhawk Bank and his family’s business, the Corn Crib Nursery — which is promoting the race on its marquis.

Eric would like to see the race become an annual event and grow, noting that widely successful events such as the Race for the Cure had humble beginnings.

“You hear a lot about events for cancer research, or AIDS, but not so much about adoption and foster care,” he said. Eric would like to promote adoption through other events, and eventually “I’d love to start my own foundation.”

Meanwhile, he may have another channel for his considerable leadership skills and creativity. Two spots for teenagers are opening on the St. Maria Goretti Parish Council.

The race organizer may just run for that, too.

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