Grandmother’s cancer inspires bike journey for Tanner Walker: Musings by Marilou

Tanner Walker

My mother in-law, Flo Horton, a resident of St. Tammany Parish for more than 30 years, passed away in April at her residence in Houston, Texas. However, this is not about the life of an amazing and vivacious 91-year-old woman who battled a lengthy fight with cancer. It is, instead, about the generation she has left behind to walk in her footsteps.

More than 70 students from the University of Texas recently embarked on a one-of-a-kind adventure in which Flo Horton’s grandson, Tanner Walker, is a participant. The athletes are biking from Austin, Texas, to Anchorage, Alaska, approximately 4,900 miles, to raise money and awareness for cancer research. They are scheduled to reach their final destination on August 8, Day 70 of the team’s journey.

Due to his grandmother’s illness at the time, the biking challenge seemed like a perfect fit for Walker. After she died, it became a quest.

Walker and his teammates, many of whom attended his grandmother’s funeral in their orange and blue Texas 4000 biking gear, appear to be part of a generation of seekers, doers, and humanitarians. Luckily, I have discovered, these young adults are everywhere.

Last year, I wrote a story featuring Mason Watson, a Fontainebleau High School graduate who created “Cars for a Cure Apparel” (automotive T-shirts) to raise money for cancer research in memory of his mother, Sharon Watson. His purpose was to continue her legacy and help others fight the dreaded disease by donating a portion of his profits to the American Cancer Society. Watson’s venture has become quite successful and the young entrepreneur, a student at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, is at the helm of something big.

Like Watson, Walker’s desire to join in the fight against the disease was prompted by the loss of a loved one. Since joining the 4000 trek, Walker’s commitment has become stronger than ever. On day 17 of their journey and approximately 900 miles from home, the riders visited Brent’s Place, a “Safe-Clean” housing center for immune compromised, pediatric cancer patients and their families in Aurora, Colorado. It was there that Walker met a two-year-old named Keshaun who added fuel to the rider’s fire.

Later that evening, Walker noted the following via social media (his contact with family and friends during this adventure): “Today we visited Brent’s Place, which is an amazing center that cares for children and their families that are undergoing cancer. This is my new hero, Keshaun, battling leukemia since 8 months but still so strong at two years old. He instantly had an impact on my life and his father and mother gave me their information and we will constantly be in touch about his battle. He is a winner.”

Tanner holds Keshaun

Several days after his visit with the young cancer victim, Walker learned that Keshaun had lost his fight with the disease. Although Walker was devastated, his drive and passion burned even stronger. On June 21, the college junior wrote: “I finished 100 miles in 5 hours 15 minutes. When we finished the race I was told that the little man, Keshaun, I met at Brent’s Place passed away last night. I am heartbroken and feeling lost, but I will be dedicating my summer to him and all the strength that he has given me.”

It was not long after the news that I received a call from Walker’s mother, Lisa, my husband’s sister, asking me to make a bracelet for Tanner. Apparently, the riders and volunteers had created beaded bands honoring, memorializing, and supporting cancer victims prior to their momentous ride. The university students then wore the tributes during their daily outings. Walker had requested one that would simply read, “KESHAUN.”

Lisa Walker, prior to her son leaving for the adventure, had sent all of her leftover beads to my granddaughter, Haley. I quickly explained the situation to the 10-year-old and within minutes she was crafting bracelets (along with one honoring my deceased father, Joseph DeVille) using tiny rubber bands and her Rainbow loom. This week those memorials will be sent to Lisa, a Mandeville High School graduate living in Texas, who will deliver them to her son.

And, that started me to thinking. Not only is Flo Horton’s love and concern for others being passed down through Tanner Walker, but now Haley has been been given the opportunity to do something for someone else…a spark off of Tanner’s flame.

My hope is that the same fire burns in the hearts of generations to come. Flo Horton would be proud.

by Marilou Horton