he Iroquois Steeplechase, Nashville’s iconic sporting event benefiting Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, sponsored by Bank of America, named two inspiring young people as child ambassador and featured artist for this year’s race: Brooks Russell and Lesly Mendez.
Brooks Russell, this year’s child ambassador, is a 9-year-old third grader who has been a longtime cancer fighter and patient at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. At 4 years old, Russell underwent a 10-hour-long surgery to remove a pilocytic astrocytoma, a brain tumor growing on his spinal cord. He also has completed two years of chemotherapy, 30 sedated MRIs, and five subsequent surgeries since his initial procedure. While the child ambassador program highlights the significant partnership between Children’s Hospital and Iroquois Steeplechase, with more than $10 million donated to date, Russell represents the strength and resiliency of children fighting difficult health diagnoses.
“Brooks walks into Children’s Hospital knowing his nurses better than some family members,” said Kari Russell, his mother. “He knows they will take excellent care of him, all while keeping his spirits lifted and even bringing him an Icee when he wakes up from his MRIs. We are so thankful for the compassionate, expert team at Children’s Hospital.”
Russell’s tumor is currently stable, and he enjoys playing baseball, basketball, and flag football. “Iroquois Steeplechase has many long-standing traditions within our community, but one of the most cherished ones is the meaningful relationship we have with Children’s Hospital,” said Dwight Hall, chairman of the Iroquois Steeplechase Race Committee. “And we are truly honored to have Brooks as this year’s child ambassador.”
Additionally, Mendez, an 18-year-old high school student, was selected as featured artist from among a field of young painters. She has been a lifelong drawer, but she only began painting with acrylics within the last two years; this also is the first competition she has ever entered. Her selected painting, “Azul,” depicts a woman, a young girl, and a horse, all wearing garments in shades of blue. As the featured artist, Mendez will exhibit her painting on race day in the Children’s Hospital tent in the family area.
“I get my inspiration from nature and the beauty of colors, which adds life to anything,” Mendez said. “For this painting, I chose to focus on the color blue being worn by the woman, young girl, and horse. I wanted to convey the relationship the two females have with one another and the horse that they grew up with and hold so dear to their hearts.”
Mendez is currently a senior at Antioch High School, and she plans to attend college and pursue a career in one of the STEM fields.
“So many talented artists submitted paintings for consideration, but Lesly’s captured our attention immediately,” Hall said. “Her painting embodies the essence of Iroquois Steeplechase, which is the deep connection we share with each other and with the majesty of the horses.”
For those wanting to learn more about the 77th Iroquois Steeplechase or to purchase tickets, visit http://www.iroquoissteeplechase.org.
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