Life is full of defining moments…a point at which the essential nature of a person’s character is revealed, and their destiny cemented. For Give Kids The World volunteer and fundraiser Tom Wilson, that moment was meeting Leah Mullen. A native of northern England, Tom had moved to the Baltimore area to work at a large hotel, where he became fast friends with Leah’s dad, Tim. He was amazed to learn that Tim ran in marathons several times a year, and flabbergasted that he had done one while pushing Leah the entire way in a stroller. And when he met Leah for the first time, Tom’s heart melted.
At just 18 months old, Leah had been diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare and often fatal childhood cancer. Surgery to remove the tumor was successful, but the lasting damage to her body was irreversible. Leah remained at a cognitive level of a 20-month-old, completely lost her hearing, and began having catastrophic seizures. Through it all, Tim Mullen and his close-knit family showered Leah with love and embarked on a lifelong journey raising funds for other children facing similar challenges. Through the Mullens, Tom learned about Give Kids The World and its mission to transform the lives of critically ill children. Tom began joining Tim in marathons and long-distance cycle rides to raise funds for the Village, pushing himself to the limit with a single-minded determination to make a difference in Leah’s honor.
This past January, Tom’s world was rocked by a life-changing experience volunteering with the Mullens at the Village, where Leah and her family had previously enjoyed an unforgettable stay. Tom’s early trepidation about the sadness he might feel gave way to overwhelming joy and gratitude when he saw the smiles of children as they rode the train he operated. Once again, Tom’s heart swelled. He decided to devote his life to raising funds for this magical place, expanding his fundraising activities to 100 and 200-mile cycling races.
When a new job with Davidson Hotels & Resorts took Tom to Carlsbad, California, he was thrilled to find out that the hotel chain supports the Village…serendipity! Tom soon began doing monthly rides and Miles for Smiles cycling events to continue his fundraising mission, often enlisting his co-workers to join and training them for months so they could participate – always with Leah in mind. In fact, Tom customized his bike with a special plaque in Leah’s honor, surrounded by one of her pink hair scrunchies. In early January 2018, Tom was diagnosed with cancer – three weeks before Leah passed away on January 29, 2018, just shy of her 29th birthday. Despite his cancer, and having endured more than 15 ankle and other surgeries, Tom continued riding as well as supporting Davidson Hotels’ myriad of charitable programs in support of Give Kids The World.
Even the COVID-19 pandemic could not stop Tom from achieving his fundraising mission in support of the Village. After training for several months with a team of friends that included Tim Mullen to complete a 100-mile ride around Lake Tahoe, CA, the event was cancelled due to the pandemic. Tom and his team decided to do the ride anyhow, and Tom also added a 141-mile ride up and down the California coast to celebrate his 41st birthday – after which he was gifted with the news that his cancer was in remission. Tom is convinced that his charitable purpose and the courage with which Leah approached her illness are what helped him to recover.
“After volunteering at the Village, I knew that my outlook on life was never going to be the same,” says Tom. “Seeing these children bravely fighting some of the worst medical conditions imaginable gave me the strength and determination to win my own battle with cancer. I pledged to live life to the fullest and to spend the rest of my life paying it forward in honor of Leah. That will be my contribution to the world…raising funds for the most amazing organization I have ever seen.”
In the coming year, Tom plans on completing a 100-mile ride every single month, as well as a monumental 3,000-mile ride from Oceanside, CA, to Annapolis, MD…accompanied by the world’s most well-traveled, meaningful pink scrunchie. To hear more about Tom’s extraordinary journey and support his remarkable fundraising efforts, follow him on Facebook.