When Cayden Hubbard was little, he would, on occasion, tell his parents that his head felt heavy.
Does it hurt, his mom would ask.
No. It just feels heavy.
His parents, Jennifer and Carter Hubbard, weren’t too alarmed. But then they started seeing other symptoms.
On Christmas Day, Cayden didn’t have much energy. He didn’t even care about playing with new toys.
And when the Lincoln family went to a basketball game, Cayden staggered across the parking lot. He sat in a chair and lost his balance, sliding off.
All of those mysterious symptoms were caused by a brain tumor. It blocked fluid to the brain and caused an excess buildup, Jennifer Hubbard said.
Now, 11 years after his diagnosis, Cayden and his family will run with Huskers at the sixth annual Nebraska Football Road Race.
The event raises money for pediatric brain cancer research.
Members of the football team offer encouragement along the course, which starts and finishes at Memorial Stadium. Many run with the kids during the 1-mile fun run. During the 5K, players cheer runners on at the start. As runners cross the finish line, they’ll run through a tunnel of Huskers. They’re also around for high-fives, selfies and autographs.
“The players are excited to see fans. They’re excited to meet the kids and their families because the fan base in Nebraska is such a big part of what they do on the field,” race coordinator Sammi Cowger said. “They like being on the flipside of that and being able to cheer on the people who cheer them on.”
The 1-mile fun run and 5K are Sunday. The first 1,000 people to register for the race will receive a pass to watch an NU football scrimmage.
The race used to be held by the Nebraska chapter of Uplifting Athletes, a national nonprofit that raises awareness and funds for the rare disease community with the help of student-athletes. This year, local organizers split from the group to keep money in Nebraska and dedicated to pediatric brain cancer research, Cowger said. All proceeds will go toward the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center in Omaha. The event is expected to bring in about $30,000.
The focus on pediatric brain cancer stems from the Huskers’ work with Jack Hoffman, a 12-year-old from Atkinson, Nebraska.
The Hubbard family will represent the Team Jack Foundation at Sunday’s race. Team Jack raises funds for pediatric brain cancer research and awareness of the disease.
This will be the Hubbard family’s first time at the race. The whole family roots for the Huskers, especially Cayden, 17.
Hubbard said she’s impressed with the student-athletes’ commitment to the community.
“Hopefully this is a really great learning experience for them at their young ages,” Jennifer Hubbard said.
Senior Bo Kitrell enjoyed participating in the race so much he asked to get more involved. Now Kitrell, a Husker running back, is president of the race.
“I believe we have the greatest fan base in all of America. It’s cool that we get to cheer them on for a change,” Kitrell said. “They deserve so much more credit than they get.”
While he has no personal connection to the cause, Kitrell said he’ll always remember Jack Hoffman’s run for a touchdown during the 2013 spring game. But he also likes connecting with the fans.
“A lot of kids look up to us and a lot of fans support us,” Kitrell said. “It’s so important to give back to them. This is such a great way to use our platform.”