25 January 2011

A run to remember: Katie Westbrook

By Catherine Spafford, Juris Staff Writer
Compassion; Conviction; Courage: Three characteristics that law students often possess. These words could also be used to describe the inherent traits of cancer victims. However, it is rare when these adjectives pertain to a person who belongs to both categories. While these are powerful words, they only begin to scratch the surface of emotions that were present on any given day in the life of Katie Westbrook.

For those readers who are not familiar with Katie’s story, it is certainly inspirational. One minute she was a bright and healthy young girl aspiring to become a lawyer with the whole world in the palm of her hand and the next minute she was fighting for her life against an aggressive form of bone cancer. When Professor Rago and other members of the Duquesne Law School faculty heard of Katie’s story, the sky was the limit as far as they were concerned with finding ways to support and help her. But as a true testament to Katie’s character, the only thing she asked for was help in spreading the word about Katie’s Fund, an organization that financially assists other pediatric cancer patients and their families.

Katie’s selfless desire to help others became the catalyst for the Katie Westbrook 5K Race at Duquesne Law, also known as Race Ipsa Loquitur. Now in its thirteenth year, the well-known fundraiser continues to grow in size with over 200 participants in the race this year, including generous individuals and local businesses that make donations. There are many different kinds of races out there, but this one is truly one-of-a-kind. The volunteers and participants are mostly Duquesne Law students and faculty, so there is already an overwhelming sense of camaraderie before the race begins.

As a second year veteran, my most intriguing observation is that even though the atmosphere is light-hearted and fun, the runners are focused, striving to achieve their personal best. We all know that Katie would not have accepted anything less. She only expected from everyone else what she was willing to give, but consequently, the amazing thing about Katie was that she always gave her best. Every year we continue to accept her challenge and surprise ourselves when we exceed our own expectations.

After hearty pats on the back and words of encouragement are exchanged at the finish line, everyone gathers for the post-race ceremony where humorous and touching stories about Katie are told by her family and friends. In addition, Dean Ken Gormley remarked on the positive feedback he received from alumni who shared fond memories of the race at a reception in New York, and declared that “it had become an institution” of the law school. Katie’s mother also spoke a few words as she protectively held Katie’s petite prosthetic leg, explaining that through her daughter’s terrifying ordeal, the only thing Katie feared was being forgotten. How appropriate it was for members of Duquesne’s Student Bar Association to thereafter announce the establishment of an Endowed Scholarship in Katie’s honor to provide deserving law students each year with resources to pursue an education in the prestigious profession of law.

Although Katie Westbrook ultimately lost her battle with cancer the morning she was to receive an honorary law degree from Duquesne at the age of 15, her tragically beloved story will live on through the generosity of those people and organizations that contribute or participate in the race. As a law student, I can attest to how easy it is to get caught up in the whirlwind of skimming casebooks, making outlines, buying study aids, and taking challenging exams; however, it takes something like the Katie Westbrook 5K Race and someone like Katie Westbrook to remind us not to lose sight of what is truly important in life and to actually live it with those who matter the most.