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‘Cancer never sleeps’: La Jolla High School’s Tom Atwell completes 100-mile fundraising run for 12th year

Tom Atwell (in pink shirt) completed 100 miles around the La Jolla High School track June 9 to help fight breast cancer.
La Jolla High School teacher and coach Tom Atwell (in pink shirt) completed 100 miles around the school’s track June 9 to help fight breast cancer.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

La Jolla High School social studies teacher and water polo and swimming coach Tom Atwell is used to giving cancer a run for its money. And he continued his 12th annual tradition last week by completing 100 miles around the school’s track to raise money for breast cancer foundation Susan G. Komen.

Atwell, a cancer survivor himself, started his run at 8 p.m. June 8 and finished just before 3 p.m. the next day.

“Cancer never sleeps,” Atwell said, explaining why he begins his 100 miles at night.

With one stadium light illuminating his path and students taking turns keeping him company, Atwell ran all night. His son Cole slept on the field in support.

“I don’t think he’s been alone once since he started,” said Cole, an incoming senior at Brown University.

Cole said he’s been to every one of his father’s runs. “It’s awesome; it’s one of my favorite events every year, with everyone coming out. The support he gets is just crazy.”

The La Jolla Light caught up with Tom Atwell at about 8:50 a.m. June 9 as he took a short break. At the time, he had completed about 74 miles.

The full run is 400 times around the track. Friends and current and former students jogged alongside him for a few of those laps.

Atwell took on the run after having foot surgery Jan. 6 and spending months on a scooter to get around. “This is part of my rehab, to run a hundred miles,” he said with a laugh.

“It’s gone great,” he said. “There’s a lot of kids who were out here throughout the night and a lot of support.”

Not only is Atwell a cancer survivor, his wife, Utahna, is, too. Atwell runs yearly — minus a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic — in honor of those he knows who are battling cancer.

Jenn Marongiu and Tom Atwell (center), along with members of Marongiu's family, don "Team Jenn" shirts.
Jenn Marongiu and Tom Atwell (center), along with members of Marongiu’s family, don “Team Jenn” shirts in support of her fight against breast cancer.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

One of them is friend Jenn Marongiu, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in December.

Marongiu, 37, has had a double mastectomy and is undergoing chemotherapy. But she turned out with several family members June 9 to take a few laps with Atwell.

“[It’s] so awesome,” Marongiu said. “It’s a hard time, so it’s nice to have people come and support and be there.”

Atwell’s friend Russ Reinbolt, who called himself one of Atwell’s wingmen, said “he’s such a role model.”

As of June 12, Atwell’s run had raised more than $13,500 for Susan G. Komen, surpassing his $10,000 goal.

To donate, visit info-komen.org/goto/CoachAtwell. ◆