'Super' weekend takes Kenny Capps from mountain trails to dance floor
It’s an agreed upon fact that superheroes are not real. It is fun to imagine people among us with special powers who use them to fight for good, but the phenomenon is confined mostly to comic books and the silver screen.
If they did exist here in the mountains, a person with superhuman abilities may spend the weekend running up the side of a mountain before turning around the next night and wowing onlookers with slick dance moves under the heat of a spotlight to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
Kenny Capps may very well be the closest thing the Swannanoa Valley has to a superhero.
Capps woke up well before dawn on the morning of Feb. 23, before making his way down to Cherry Street. There he joined hundreds of athletes who took off running north toward the trails leading up toward Mount Mitchell.
“I’ve run either the Mount Mitchell Challenge or the Black Mountain Marathon probably about seven times,” said Capps, who is no stranger to incredible feats of strength and determination.
Capps had long been a biker and runner when he ran the Challenge in 2014, the year before he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer that forms in white blood cells and accumulates in the bone marrow. In 2015, on the heels of a benefit held at the White Horse Black Mountain, Capps left for Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in Atlanta to undergo a bone marrow transplant.
Turning to running as a means to cope and heal, Capps was on the trails by the end of that year. He ran in 16 races throughout 2016 and set his sights on raising awareness for multiple myeloma and encouraging others battling the disease to be physically active.
He launched a nonprofit organization called Throwing Bones For a Cure and began preparing to run across the state along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Having not achieved remission for his cancer, Capps underwent chemotherapy as he made the 54-day journey, in which he averaged around 22 miles each day. He kept a journal of the trek, which can be found at throwingbonesrun.org.
He finished his trip, which began on the coast on April 1, atop Clingman’s Dome on May 24.
Capps was far from done.
“That run was super valuable to us in the sense that it raised awareness of myeloma, of course, and Throwing Bones and what we’re trying to accomplish,” he said.
In October he was in New York for an advocacy conference and ran in The Journey 12 Hour Endurance Run on Randall’s Island Park. The event was a fundraiser for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.
Capps braved sub-freezing temperatures in November as he ran the 50-mile Tunnel Hill ultramarathon.
With 2019 approaching, Capps was not only preparing to tackle the Mount Mitchell Challenge, but his work to raise awareness for multiple myeloma earned him an invitation to be a part of Dancing with the Asheville Stars at the Diana Wortham Theatre.
“It was a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society,” Capps said of the event, which took place on Feb. 24, the day after he was set to take on the Challenge. “I’ve never been involved with them, but I know that organization provides a lot of opportunities for cancer patients.”
The event paired dancers with 10 Western North Carolina celebrities for the performance. Capps was paired with Sarah Brown. He, like many of the well-known participants, was approached about the fundraiser by fellow participant Leslie Green, who helped make it a reality.
"She put a lot of time and energy into rallying up the people she knew who had the most influence and who had been touched by cancer in some way shape or form," Capps said of Green. "If it wasn't for her this event wouldn't have happened."
Joining Capps as the stars of the show were Leah Ashburn, president of Highland Brewing Co.; Jason Boyer, chief meteorologist for WLOS-TV 13; Karen Chávez, Asheville Citizen Times outdoors reporter; Charles Frederick, N.C. Market president for TD Bank; John G. Pierce, UNC Asheville vice chancellor for administration and finance; Robby Russell, PNC Bank commercial relationship manager; Laura A. Webb, president and owner of Webb Investment Services, Inc. and Green, a former banker and current community volunteer.
Brown and Capps rehearsed for about 25 hours to get ready for the performance.
"Sarah is a very talented and fit dancer," said Capps, whose routine was set to "In My Blood" by Shawn Mendes. "We performed a contemporary dance routine and there were a lot of lifts, because if I would've had to move my feet faster we wouldn't have done well."
That's due, in large part, to the punishment he put them through the day before. He spent the entire day of the performance wearing no shoes, and performed the routine in his bare feet as well.
"I may have over-committed," he said of participating in the trail run and the dance competition on back-to-back days. "But it was a great weekend."
Capps battled wet weather conditions and trekked along muddy trails during the race, missing the cutoff for the Mount Mitchell Challenge by a mere 30 seconds, and was forced to turn back at the Blue Ridge Parkway with the Black Mountain Marathon runners. He finished that race in 6:21:37.
"It was like walking through the middle of a creek going up Old Toll Road," he said. "I guess I should've been paying closer attention to my pace."
It was easy to lose focus on the trail run, he said, because his mind was elsewhere.
"I was terrified about the dance," he said smiling. "It really took me out of my comfort zone, but I was reminded by one of my fitness clients that I always say, 'nobody grows in their own comfort zone.'"
Capps spent the rest of the day after the race recovering. He made his way to the theater at noon for the final rehearsal before the crowd arrived. He and Brown earned a 10 out of 10 from the panel of judges, which included Karina Smirnoff, a dancer on the ABC show Dancing with the Stars.
"Being a part of this production was really inspiring in a lot of ways," Capps said. "Most importantly, they raised over the $50,000 goal."
With his dance debut and latest race behind him, Capps will focus on the growth of Throwing Bones for a Cure. The organization is currently working on a system that will allow multiple myeloma patients to assess their own physical abilities before helping them discover activities that promote being physically active.
The nonprofit will also host the second annual Throwing Bones Trail 5K at the Montreat College Black Mountain Campus on Saturday, March 9. The event, which raises money for Capps' organization, will attract over 150 runners, he said. Runners can register at ultrasignup.com.
The organization is hoping to announce a yet-to-be-named 50-mile benefit race for 2020 in the near future, Capps said.
"Our core mission is to encourage patients to stay healthy and active," he said of Throwing Bones for a Cure. "We're still muscling through to make this thing go, and we're succeeding."
And, while Capps may not be a superhero in real life, his quest to raise awareness and support for people battling multiple myeloma has already taught him some valuable lessons.
"So many people actually care," he said. "I've learned that people are good in general and they really want to help find ways to make things better for others."