ST. LOUIS - Mike Aitken loves the sport of running so much, he and his wife named their firstborn son 'Runner.'
Their beloved sport along with several local athletes are now providing a support system for the Aitken family as Runner fights the biggest battle of his life.
"It hits you like a ton of bricks when your child has any kind of issue, let alone something that kind of manifests itself into this really serious problem," Mike said.
Runner, now 9 years old, was diagnosed with a rare genetic seizure disorder in 2008. After a period of better health, he was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer late last year.
"They're literally telling you, this is it. We can do things to make him comfortable, but we don't have any options," his father remembers.
Mike continued his passion for running, and brought his son along for the ride. It started as bonding and became therapeutic for Runner.
"We could share these experiences together," the Aitken's said. "It gave him the ability to do things that he otherwise wouldn't be able to do."
Runner's younger brother, 'Dash,' also enjoys the sport.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation learned about Runner's diagnosis, and planned to send the running duo to Orlando for the annual Disney World Marathon. Runner's health kept them closer to home, but inspired St. Louis area runners to dedicate a different race to Runner.
"I reached out to Fleet Feet here in St. Louis and they were right on it. They knew who Mike was, we reached out to the St. Louis Track Club because we knew they had a race here on Saturday and everybody came together," said Heidi Plus, who runs with Fleet Feet.
She asked other local runners to donate their old Disney Marathon medals to give to Runner and Mike, several obliged.
"It's just been a whirlwind this past week, and the outpouring [of support] from the running community has been tremendous," she said.
Mike and Runner logged 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) at Saturday morning's Forest Park Frostbite Series race. Family, friends, and strangers lined the course with signs, cowbells, and cheers of support for the two. All dressed in green, the color of liver cancer awareness, according to Runner's mother, Julie.
"He's incredibly resilient. I mean, he continues to crack smiles," said the boy's father. "No amount of school, no amount of anything else could teach us what he has taught us about strength, resiliency, and the ability to fight."
To learn more about Runner, visit his Facebook Support page, where his family posts regular updates.