The Story behind the Oak Mountain Color Run


Mollie Shealy and Mandy Kelly, two former Oak Mountain students started The Oak Mountain Color Run.They wanted to do something that would impact their community, help find a cure for cancer, and honor a grandfather and grandmother who was impacted by cancer. 

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Donald Reid Ellison was an electrical engineering graduate from the University of Alabama. He was a father of four, grandfather of nine and great-grandfather of three. At the age of 83 he was an active member of his Kentucky community, continuing to perform engineering work. Age is not what slowed Donald Ellison down, however; he was diagnosed with lung cancer in June of 2010 after 70 years of smoking. He passed away in Sept 2010 from complications from the surgery and COPD.  This was just eight short weeks after his procedure. He never left the hospital here in Alabama. An incredible, fun loving, family man was taken by a disease that kills millions annually.

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Susan Adele Provost Powers was born in October 1938. She attended Plattsburgh State in Upstate New York and received her Masters from Saint Rose. Susan was married to Thomas Powers. They lived on a farm in Clifton Park, New York. Susan taught first and third grade at Shenendehowa County School, and later became a substitute teacher when her son was born. Susan is the mother of three children and has six grandchildren. She was very active in the community and was President of the Ladies Auxiliary for the Jonesville volunteer Fire department, member of PTA, and Brownie troop leader. At the age of 38, Susan had been sick for months with various diagnoses. She went to the eye doctor and was immediately sent to the ER and admitted. It took another 24 hours to diagnose her with a rare form of Leukemia. Due to how far the disease progressed undiagnosed, Susan died 10 days later from a cerebral hemorrhage.  She was an amazing woman who inspires her family to this day.

Leaving a Legacy

by Erica Techo (Courtesy of 280 Living)- February 24, 2017


Photo by Sarah Finnegan

Photo by Sarah Finnegan

The first Oak Mountain High School Color Run did not go as expected.

Rain washed away the chalked-out running trail, they ran low on T-shirts, and in the end, the fundraiser made around negative $200. Despite that rough start, the Color Run 5K is now entering its fourth year and is continuing to grow.

“The first run was just a disaster. I think we had like 100 people turn up,” said Mollie Shealy, one of the founders of the run.

OMHS graduates Shealy and Mandy Kelly organized the first color run in 2013, and while they decided in the fall to host a color run, planning didn’t start until February or March, Kelly said. 

“We did all the planning, and it was kind of hard,” Kelly said. “It was hectic because it was two 17/18-year-old girls who had never planned a color run or 5K before.”

It started as an end-of-the-year fundraiser for Relay for Life through SGA, but both had a greater connection to the cause. Shealy’s grandfather, Donald Reid Ellison, had died three years prior after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Kelly’s grandmother, Susan Adele Provost Powers, died from a cerebral hemorrhage after she was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia.  

For Shealy, organizing a run to raise money for cancer research was the result of a love for her grandfather. She went through the process of seeing him diagnosed and seeing his health complications, and after he died, she wanted to make a change.

“After my grandfather passed away, I really had this pull to the fire that I want to help in any way possible to help find a cure,” Shealy said.

While Kelly’s grandmother, Susan Adele Provost Powers, died before she was born, she grew up hearing stories about Powers and being inspired by her grandmother’s memories. 

“It made it easier to make it a lot more personal, if we made it in honor of our grandparents, because then it’s like, ‘We’ve all been there. We’ve all been affected by this,’” Kelly said.

John Milton, a teacher at OMHS and sponsor for the Color Run, said while he knew Shealy and Kelly were hard workers, the idea of two seniors pulling together a 5K in their last month of school raised a few eyebrows. Once he heard their personal connections to the cause, however, those concerns dissipated.

“That’s when I knew that it would work, somehow, some way,” Milton said. The next year, after Shealy and Kelly had graduated and left for college, Milton decided to continue the run and other students in SGA supported the idea.

“We sort of have this path, this history, and for me I think it was just the relationship I had built with Mandy and Mollie, and the relationships they built with other students in SGA,” Milton said. “Everyone felt the sense that they wanted to do it for them.”

The next year, the Color Run was held in honor of Shealy and Kelly’s grandparents, and money raised went both to Relay for Life and the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. Shealy was not surprised that Milton held a second run because he is always dedicated to continuing projects and improving events, she said, but was touched to hear it was held for her grandfather and Kelly’s grandmother.

“Milton, he is very active, always thinking of ways to better it,” Shealy said. “I think the only thing that surprised me was that he was willing to name it in honor of our grandparents.”

When people come out to run, Milton said they’re not just supporting UAB’s cancer research center.

“It’s a cool story to be a part of because I think everybody who participates in the Color Run, they’re part of that story,” Milton said. “They’re part of that community event that is staying local.”

The run, which now takes place around the lake at Oak Mountain State Park, remains completely student led and organized. Providing the ability to organize a big event, Milton said, is something that is beneficial for OMHS students.

“It’s still local, it’s still student run,” he said. “Our goal has never been to be a big national event or make $50,000-$60,000. We know there’s sort of a limit to the size of this event, but we like keeping it run by high school students because it’s such a great experience.”

The students are responsible for ordering supplies and merchandise like shirts for the event, in addition to reaching out to sponsors. 

This year’s committee includes committee chair Emily Anne Beauchaine and member Kaitlin Manolio, who said it has been interesting to see the event grow over the years. When the first run took place, Manolio was a freshman at OMHS and Beauchaine was in middle school.

“Every year, there’s a new vendor or a new group of people coming into SGA to help, and they always have new ideas to bring to the table,” Manolio said. “That’s really neat, to see it transform. … It’s really cool to see something two high school girls started impact our community so much.”

While the event has grown in number of participants each year, this year the price has dropped from $40 to $25. They chose to decrease the registration cost so that more students could participate, Beauchaine said.

The price no longer includes a T-shirt, but when runners pre-register, they will have the option to purchase a Color Run T-shirt as well as other items such as headbands and socks.

As organizers, Beauchaine and Manolio are normally too busy to participate in the run, but said they alway hear positive reviews.

“I think it just brings one of those events ... that is for any age,” Manolio said. “Any ages can come, it gives back to the community, but it’s also very fun.”

“It’s something different that you don’t get to do every day,” Beauchaine said. “You’re in Oak Mountain State Park, you’re getting colored powder thrown at you. It’s just a fun event, and all our money goes to UAB cancer research.”

Looking back on the last three races, which have gone from losing $200 in 2013 to raising around $5,000 in 2016, Shealy said it’s an honor to see the community continue to support the cause. 

“To see it grow, and to have family members, I’ve had family members from Kentucky come down,” she said. “It’s incredible, it’s heartwarming, and it’s so much more than I can put into words.”

“People realize this isn’t just a color run,” Kelly said. “This is a color run to raise money to help end cancer.”