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U.S. Marine Major Competes in Second Ironman® Race in 5 Weeks to Raise Funds, Awareness of Rare Childhood Cancer That Took His Daughter’s Life

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After completing a half Ironman® race in early April, Marine Major John Watkins will suit up on May 11 to compete in the full Ironman here to raise money for the Children’s Neuroblastoma Cancer Foundation. CNCF is a nonprofit committed to funding research and raising awareness of neuroblastoma, a solid tumor cancer whose primary victims are infants and toddlers.
Watkins and his wife, Jayshree, are honoring a commitment to increase awareness and provide financial support for neuroblastoma research and education. The couple’s efforts are in memory of their 10-month-old daughter Amelia, a.k.a. Millie Mae, who died eight days after her neuroblastoma diagnosis. The military family was driving cross-country to relocate from Virginia to their new home in San Diego when Millie Mae became alarmingly ill. They visited emergency rooms along their route and what was initially believed to be an ear infection was actually Stage 4 neuroblastoma.

“We honor her memory by helping support other neuroblastoma families through our Millie Mae Strong organization and our work with CNCF,” said Jayshree Watkins. “John’s continuing to train and run and fight on behalf of our baby girl because childhood cancers just don’t get the funding, attention and research that adult diseases receive.”

Donations for the Miles for Millie fundraiser are being accepted on Facebook at The fundraiser will be live until June 6, which marks the second anniversary of Millie’s death. Supporters may also donate directly to CNCF here.

“It’s coming up on the second ‘angelversary’ and we promised her we would do big things in her name,” said Maj. Watkins. “I want to keep her memory alive and hopefully be a blessing to other neuroblastoma families.”

Maj. Watkins will be competing alongside his friend and fellow U.S. Marine, Zach Maciolek. The two will swim 2.4 miles, take a 112-mile bicycle ride and then complete a 26.22-mile marathon in Millie’s honor. The pair trained aboard a ship and recently returned to Camp Pendleton from an eight-month deployment at sea.  Watkins completed the half Ironman 70.3 in Oceanside on April 7.

“We’re so grateful for the Watkinses, who continue to power through their personal tragedy to increase awareness and raise funds for neuroblastoma research,” said Pat Tallungan, co-founder and president of CNCF who lost her son, Nick, 10, to the disease. “What most people don’t know is that pediatric cancer gets less than 4% of total funding for cancer research – so the families keep advocating and doing what we can to eradicate this disease.”