14-year-old girl organizes 5k run to fight malaria

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Heather Asay is just like any other eighth-grade girl. She loves reading, gets good grades, excels at soccer and running and enjoys going to school dances. What makes Heather different is her desire to help others.

Heather has organized this year’s annual Race Against Malaria 5k.  The run will start Saturday from the Mapleton City Center at 9 a.m. with proceeds going to help send anti-malaria mosquito nets to needy families in Africa and Asia.

The annual race has become an important community event for Mapleton and is now in its fourth year.

“It is great to see the community come together and fight this battle against malaria through small everyday efforts,” Heather said.

The Race Against Malaria 5k run was started four years ago by Amberly Asay, Heather’s older sister. Amberly was inspired by a presentation that Eric Wilson, an associate professor of microbiology at BYU, gave to her youth group about world disease.

“He told us, ‘Now that you guys know about these diseases, we want you to do something about it,’ recalled Amberly. “Nothing had ever hit me like that before … If I’m not going to do something about it, no one else will.”

She said she was especially affected by the fact a child dies from malaria every 30 seconds and decided to focus her efforts on malaria prevention.

All of the proceeds from the Race Against Malaria 5k run go to the Nothing But Net Campaign which has distributed more than 6 million anti-malaria bed nets throughout Africa and Asia. The entry fee for the Race Against Malaria 5k is just $10, the price to send one mosquito net.

This year, Heather decided to take over the organization of the race in place of her sister. Having recently organized a campaign that raised $800 to buy toys and clothes for children in the Primary Children’s Hospital, she said she loves participating in charities.

“It just makes me feel good and I love to see how much of a difference I can make by doing simple things,” she said.

Organizing an event of this size, however, was no simple task. Heather contacted the city to get permission, talked to the web designer about updating the website, got sponsors, figured out the insurance with the help of a neighbor down the street and distributed over 600 fliers with the help of her little brother.

“She did all of it,” said older sister, Amberly. “I pretty much just said, ‘Heather, figure it out.'”

Dwayne Asay, Amberly and Heather’s father, said he doesn’t know where his girls’ ambition comes from, but he is grateful for the support that the community has given his daughters.

“These kids are much better than I ever was,” Dwayne said. “We don’t have a lot of money, but we do have some great people.”

Every year, people donate hundreds of dollars and help out by advertising and waking up at 5 a.m. to help set up for the race.

“I feel like today we live in a society where it’s all about me,” Amberly said. “I really like the 5k because it’s half of your day where you’re thinking about someone else and saving people’s lives,” Amberly said.

Tickets can be pre-purchased at RaceAgainstMalaria.org or purchased at the event. Same-day registration begins at 8:15 a.m. Saturday.

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