Midway through their 10-mile run the Saturday before Labor Day, Hannah Telman and Becky Graves stumbled across a familiar face.
It was North Carolina coach Roy Williams out for a morning stroll on the John Nesbitt Loop in Wrightsville Beach.
Neither woman approached Williams the first time they passed him, but Telman decided she wasn't going to let the opportunity slip by again should they run by him a second time on their next lap.
Telman had spent the previous few days hastily putting together a fundraising run and barbecue to support her pastor's wife, Amy Louthan, who was in final preparations for surgery to remove a large brain tumor in the right side of her head. She hoped she might be able to drum up interest and publicity for her cause by persuading Williams to attend the event.
Just before Telman and Graves finished their run, they indeed encountered Williams a second time. Telman nervously approached the 63-year-old hall of fame coach and asked if she could walk with him for a few minutes.
"It was a holiday weekend, he was out with his friend, and he was so kind and so gracious," Telman said Monday. "I told him about Amy and her situation. I said, 'I know it's a holiday and this is very forward of me, but if you could come and run a mile with us it would be extremely meaningful to us.' He said he couldn't run with us, but he would be happy to stop by."
Spreading word via flyers and social media that Williams might attend helped Telman transform a small-scale fundraiser into a meaningful one. Three times as many people agreed to walk or run as initially expected and the event raised more than $28,000, nearly tripling the already wildly optimistic target Telman had set for herself when she came up with the idea a few days earlier.
"My secret goal was $10,000, but the people I told that to were like, 'Oh, that would be great but don't get disappointed if it doesn't happen,'" Telman said. "It was a grandiose idea. I did not dream that we were going to walk out of that event with $28,000."
Telman feared Williams might not show up since she had no way of confirming with him after their chance encounter on the loop, but she probably would have been less anxious had she known his family's history with cancer.
Williams lost his mother to cardiac arrest while undergoing chemotherapy for cancer in 1992 and his father to cancer and emphysema in 2004. Last fall, he also underwent a 3 1/2-hour procedure to remove a tumor from his right kidney that doctors detected during a routine physical.
As a result of how cancer has touched his family, Williams has been at the forefront of the fight to eradicate the disease.
He has made several donations to the Lineberger Cancer Center in Chapel Hill and often visits the hospital after games to meet with cancer patients in hopes of lifting their spirits. He also organizes an annual breakfast and auction to support cancer research, doing anything from recruiting donors and corporate sponsors to seeking out Tar Heel-themed guest speakers like soccer star Mia Hamm or former NBA center Brad Daugherty.
"He has been the best partner you could ask for," UNC Lineberger director of external affairs Debbie Dibbert told Yahoo Sports last October. "He doesn't just lend his name, and that's the important thing. He is very personally invested."
Sure enough, Williams proved that again on Labor Day, arriving at the run exactly when he promised Telman he would. He generously signed autographs, posed for pictures and spent a few minutes chatting one-on-one with Louthan, herself a North Carolina grad who was eager to meet the Tar Heels coach.
Louthan, a 44-year-old mother of three, was scheduled to undergo a 12-hour surgery last Tuesday. Doctors won't know for sure whether the tumor is benign or malignant until they get test results back from the pathology lab.
What drove Telman to do whatever she could to help the Louthan family was both her friendship with Amy and the memory of her mother being diagnosed with a brain tumor more than a decade ago. Telman is elated that the fundraiser will help with Amy's medical bills, but she refuses to take credit for its success.
"It was definitely a miracle that happened," Telman said. "There was such a short amount of time for it to come together, and it was just too perfect."