La Jolla High teacher and coach takes on annual 100-mile run for cancer research

La Jolla High School teacher and coach Tom Atwell (in pink shirt) makes his 100-mile run in 2022.
La Jolla High School teacher and coach Tom Atwell (in pink shirt) makes his 100-mile run in 2022. He’ll do it again around the school’s track June 1-2 for cancer research.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Tom Atwell’s 15th fundraising run will begin the night of Thursday, June 1, and cover 400 laps around the school track.


For the 15th year, La Jolla High School social-studies teacher and water polo and swimming coach Tom Atwell hopes to lap cancer by raising thousands of dollars for research.

To do that, he’ll run 100 miles — 400 laps — around the school’s track beginning at 9 p.m. Thursday, June 1, running through the night and aiming to finish around 3:30 p.m. June 2.

It’s a tradition he started after realizing how close to home cancer is and how many of his students, neighbors and friends it affects.

Each run Atwell completes raises money for breast cancer foundation Susan G. Komen. He raised nearly $18,000 last year and hopes to raise $10,000 this year through donations.

“Every year, it’s a little more like, ‘Wow, am I really doing this again?’” Atwell said. “But every year there’s something that happens, someone near me who inspires me and gets me fired up to want to battle.”

Many former cancer patients he knows have had recurrences — he himself has survived cancer three times. His wife also is a cancer survivor. Every return of cancer he hears about and every new diagnosis of people near to him “jerks you back into the reality that it never ends,” he said. “It’s out there.”

The family of one of Atwell’s current students is dealing with cancer and said in a statement that they are grateful for Atwell’s “remarkable dedication to the fight against cancer” via his 100-mile run.

In an email to his classes, Atwell said that in addition to raising money, “it is always my hope that, through my run, the students will see that they can do hard things. It is also my hope that they will see that they can take on small challenges that can effect positive change on the world.”

Atwell said students and others are invited to join him for a few of his 400 laps.

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