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More than 1,500 distance runners will soon engage in a race unlike any that’s taken place in Wisconsin before. Where else but in America’s Dairyland would participants be able to meet and greet with cows before and after the race?

Yet, this is exactly what happens when dairy farmers, cheese and butter processors, cattle haulers and dozens of associated businesses unite to organize a fun run — or, more accurately, a fun run with a purpose. The inaugural “Kickin’ It with the Cows” Run/Walk, benefiting Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, kicks off on Saturday, July 8, at Voyageur Park in De Pere.

While the race is new, it’s actually an extension of the very successful Dairy Cares of Wisconsin initiative. The non-profit organization has raised more than $630,000 on behalf of the hospital since hosting its first Garden Party fund raiser in 2011.

This year, we wanted to expand our scope and reach people in a fresh way. The idea of a run/walk — with cows (and even some goats) peppered along the way — felt like a high-energy way to support the hospital, spotlight our industry and satisfy athletes looking for something different. With various fresh local cheeses, yogurt, milk, and, yes, even some beer, participants will celebrate our state’s Dairyland tradition.

This is all very new to us, too. Most of our committee members and volunteers are more comfortable raising livestock and growing crops than mapping out scenic running routes. But we do this for a reason: While we know that raising money is the goal, our mission is all about people.

We don’t forget Ezra, who suffered his first seizure at just 2 months old. Eventually diagnosed with Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC), the staff at Children’s Hospital continue to fight for him with commitment and compassion. He spent his second birthday hooked up to a brain monitoring machine, so the hospital’s staff brought him a balloon and a present to make his day.

We don’t forget Madison, who was born with a severe heart defect. Under the care of the Children’s Hospital team, her first heart surgery took place when she was 12 days old. Six years and multiple surgeries later, she received a new heart on Jan. 5, 2012. Today, Madison is full of life and hopes for a happy future.

I certainly don’t forget my godson, Greyson. Having been born with an undiagnosed genetic abnormality that narrowed his airway, he and his family spent his first three months in the Fox Valley and Milwaukee Children’s Hospitals. Since then they’ve visited the hospital every other month for various tests and surgical procedures that no baby or family should have to face. The team at Children’s Hospital has worked diligently with him. Now, 3 years old Greyson is full of love, energy and adventure.

Every day, the most vulnerable among us — infants, toddlers and youngsters — stand up to frightening life-threatening diseases. The sad fact is that childhood illness is not as uncommon as we like to imagine, and many of our families have either confronted such crises or personally know someone who has. That reality is what brought Dairy Cares of Wisconsin into existence, and still drives us forward today.

Wisconsin’s dairy industry continues to achieve great things. We remain the worldwide leader in cheese production, both in quantity and quality. But it’s events like these that give us an opportunity to do something more: Whether you make cheese or eat it, this is a chance to affect immediate positive change in the lives of people who need help.

If you want to lace up your sneakers and hit the pavement with us, please visit www.dairycaresofwisconsin.org to learn more. You will find everything from parking maps and run routes to registration details and volunteer opportunities.

For one day in July, when we talk about “hoofin’ it,” Dairy Cares will be talking about people and not cows.

Kuehl is chairman of the inaugural “Kickin’ It with the Cows” Run/Walk.

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