Running FAST for Smilin’ Sam |

Running FAST for Smilin’ Sam

Jeff Caspersen
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Jeff Caspersen Post IndependentSam Underhill smiles in the arms of his mom, Candy Granger-Underhill, at Saturday's Mountain to Valley Race. The race was a fundraiser for Mountain Valley Developmental Services and the Foundation for Angelman Syndrome Therapeutics. Sam, who's almost 3 years old, has Angelman syndrome.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – They ran for the boy with the whitish blond hair and a perpetual smile.

Sam Underhill, who’s almost 3 years old and is known as Smilin’ Sam for the ear-to-ear grin he constantly flashes, has a rare neurogenetic disorder called Angelman syndrome. It’s a disorder that causes, among other issues, intellectual and developmental delay and speech impairment in the afflicted.

Laughter and smiles – like Sam’s radiant grin – are also common among those with Angelman.

Saturday’s Mountain to Valley Race, which presented runners with 10- and four-mile course options, was all about Smilin’ Sam, whose happy demeanor is, by all accounts, infectious.

“He’s always smiling, and he gives the absolute best bear hugs,” said Myriah Blair, a regular on the local running scene who is a close friend of Sam’s mom, Candy Granger-Underhill. “If you’re having a bad day, you just need to get a hug from Sam. It makes you so happy. He’s always so happy.”

Blair, the first woman to the Glenwood Park finish line in the four-mile race, inked the phrase “Running for Smilin’ Sam” on her stomach as a tribute to the youngster.

Granger-Underhill noticed.

“Did you see my friend’s stomach?” she asked. “That was my favorite thing all day. That was very touching.”

Saturday’s inaugural race raised funds for Mountain Valley Developmental Services in Glenwood Springs and the Foundation for Angelman Syndrome Therapeutics (FAST), a national organization with a mission to “fund creative and innovative science towards a cure for Angelman syndrome.”

Granger-Underhill has a passion for running, a passion she put to good use by founding the race, which raised money and awareness for Angelman Syndrome.

“I’ve always been a runner,” she said. “I love running. If I can get more people into running, that makes me happy.”

And a sizable crowd turned out to honor Smilin’ Sam on a warm and sunny morning.

“I couldn’t ask for a better turnout, for a better day,” Granger-Underhill said. “We had lots of great feedback from all the runners.”

After a bus ride from Sopris Elementary to a point just above the intersection of Dry Park Road and Thompson Creek Road, the 10-milers routed their way back toward Glenwood, finishing with a long stretch along Four Mile Road and a jaunt through the neighborhood surrounding Sopris Elementary and Glenwood Park.

The four-mile course followed the final stretch of the 10-mile route.

Granger-Underhill, who lives on Four Mile Road, knows the courses well.

“I do,” she said. “It’s off the beaten path. There’s not a lot of traffic. … What we liked about the course was that the distances might make a 5Ker or a 10Ker push themselves a little further with tougher distances, so they can challenge themselves and realize they can do it.”

And every stride helped in the promising push for a cure to Angelman syndrome.

“The interesting thing about Angelman’s is that, unlike with autism, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, it affects just one gene,” Granger-Underhill said. “With other neurological disorders, it affects many other areas of the brain. Sam’s missing an enzyme.”

According to the FAST website, Angelman is “caused by the lack of function of one specific gene, called UBE3A.”

Researchers have made tremendous progress in the chase for a cure.

“They’ve actually cured it in mice,” Granger-Underhill relayed. “Mice have started learning again and remembering. Learning and memory are what it affects the most.

“It impedes development. It’s like a combination of Parkinson’s, epilepsy, cerebral palsy and autism. One little enzyme is the thing.”

Whether a cure lies in the near future or not, Granger-Underhill seems intent on enjoying her young son’s cheerful disposition in the present.

“He’s a pretty happy guy,” she said with a smile. “He always loves to be around people.”

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