JUST TRYAN IT raises money for families grappling with cancer


Ryan Darby smiles with his mom at brother at the first JUST TRYAN IT race in 2010. Ryan wasn’t able to compete in the race that year because he was still in the early stages of treatment but he still went to watch the other racers. Photo courtesy Mollie Darby.

By Meera Dahiya

Whitman parent Mollie Darby has watched kids compete in her JUST TRYAN IT triathlon for nearly nine years, but she still tears up when she talks about the first time she watched her son, freshman Ryan Darby, cross the finish line in 2012 after being diagnosed with cancer.

“We had gotten him to a point where he was able to participate,” she said. “He was still in treatment and he was still undergoing chemotherapy, but he was able to participate in the race and to continue to give back to other kids.”

Ryan was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2009 when he was five years old. He spent 21 consecutive days at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and then underwent three years of outpatient treatment. After the first two years of treatment, Ryan was finally able to compete in the JUST TRYAN IT triathlon.

“It was just awesome to be able to cross the finish line for the first time,” Ryan said. “It almost resembles [beating] cancer: just crossing the finish line and breaking free.”

Mollie created the JUST TRYAN IT triathlon in 2010 in response to the financial burdens she saw cancer impose on families during Ryan’s treatment. After Ryan was diagnosed, she realized how lucky she was to have a strong support system of families in the area and good medical insurance. When she saw the first bill for Ryan’s treatment before insurance cuts, she was shocked by the cost and realized how difficult affording treatment could be for families without the same level of resources and support.

Mollie and Ryan witnessed families struggling with paying hospital bills first-hand. At the hospital during treatment, a six-month-old girl was in a room down the hall from Ryan’s. She underwent treatment without her parents there at the hospital—because they had to work full time to keep their employer-provided insurance coverage. Watching this left an impression on the entire Darby family.

“I couldn’t imagine what she was going through,” Ryan said. “Having one, if not two parents there, was huge for me.”

Seeing this struggle inspired Mollie to start fundraising for other families dealing with cancer. Mollie had been training for a triathlon with 13 other women in a group called “Just Try It” when Ryan was diagnosed. The group decided to start a kids triathlon called JUST TRYAN IT to raise money for families affected by cancer.

The event was an immediate hit. At the first race in 2010, there were 253 competitors and the organization raised about $63,000—over three times what Mollie had expected. The organization has only grown since; it soon expanded from Bethesda to three other cities including Alexandria, VA; Chapel Hill, NC; and Pioneer Valley, MA. The proceeds from each race benefit a hospital in that city. Last year the organization raised $330,000, over five times the amount it raised the first year.

Registration for the triathlon costs $60. During the race, six to 14-year-old kids swim 25–100 yards, bike 0.8 miles and run 0.5–2 miles. This year’s Bethesda race will take place at the Landon School June 16.

Funds from the first race went to Medstar Georgetown University Hospital to help pay for any needs left uncovered by families’ insurances, like mortgages, gas, treatment, food and funerals. One of the first beneficiaries was a girl who was in treatment with Ryan. As a single mom, her mother was having trouble paying their mortgage on top of the girl’s medical bills. Funds from JUST TRYAN IT paid for the family’s mortgage when they were close to having their house taken away.

As the race has grown, the organization has hired three employees and created a board. Whitman parent Tim Moore joined the board because he loves competing in triathlons and finds the JUST TRYAN IT mission statement extremely important.

“Cancer can impact anyone. It doesn’t discriminate against whether you’re wealthy or poor; it doesn’t matter what color your skin is or where you’re from—it impacts everyone,” Moore said. “When you have a family member that’s diagnosed with cancer, all of a sudden your whole world’s turned upside down.”

While JUST TRYAN IT directly helps families struggling with cancer, Mollie thinks it also benefits the children who participate in the races because it gives them the opportunity to do good in their community.

“They’re healthy [kids] who are swimming, biking and running, and they’re helping the kids that can’t do it themselves,” she said. “It helps them establish a sense of philanthropy in their own lives.”

Ryan agrees.

“It’s just kids helping kids,” Ryan said. “That’s the biggest thing of it all. It’s just amazing to see that whole process.”