John Wayne Grit Series Cancer Charity Race to Begin May 7, Racers Explore Iconic Western Film Locations

by Amy Myers

Amidst a backdrop of western mountains and dusty landscapes, racers are once again gathering to compete in the John Wayne Grit Series 10k and half-marathon race that benefits cancer research.

Since its start in 2019, the race has expanded to four locations, starting in none other than Pioneertown, California on May 7. The John Wayne Grit Series charity race isn’t just another run along the road or paved pathway. This race will truly take you back in time to when The Duke reined over western America, one spur at a time. The route takes you through the rugged terrain with front-seat views of the Sawtooth Mountains and the Pioneer Mountain Preserve, right near Joshua Tree National Park. All the while, you can almost hear the hoofbeats of John Wayne’s True Grit horse, Dollor.

For goodhearted film buffs, this race is a golden opportunity to do some good while living out their dreams of chasing bandits and bad guys through the western mountains. And no matter what your finishing time, every step benefits the John Wayne Cancer Foundation, dedicated to bringing “courage, strength and grit to the fight against cancer.”

Race Day Need-to-Know’s

  • Half-marathon kicks off at 8:30 a.m., 10k run at 9:30 a.m.
  • Hydration packs and water bottles are mandatory for runners
  • Elevation of Pioneertown is 4,400 feet, so altitude sickness may be possible
  • All race finishers receive a commemorative Grit Race mug
  • Pioneertown is open to spectators
  • The town will be hosting post-race activities

John Wayne’s Legacy Lives on Through Charity Race Series

The John Wayne Grit Series doesn’t derive its name simply from its western locations. Back in 1964, The Duke, himself, actually beat lung cancer.

Now, the Grit Series races combine the most remarkable parts of John Wayne’s legacy, from Golden Age icon to cancer fighter. These are exactly the memories that the JWCF staff hope will inspire the race’s participants.

“We wanted to inspire other people to get out and run. And we thought, ‘What better way to get people out on trails than where John Wayne filmed some of his movies?’” said Stacy Mulder, the foundation’s vice president.

As a result, fighters, survivors and supporters all gather at the John Wayne Grit Series to help raise money for cancer research.

“John Wayne loved to be outdoors and had a very active, adventurous life and we want to bring that to people as well,” Mulder said. “We want to give them the opportunity to be out in these beautiful places in our country and to be able to have an impact by helping us raise money to fight cancer.”

The Duke’s Battle with Lung and Stomach Cancer

At first, when John Wayne received his diagnosis, he decided to keep the news private, per advice from his publicity managers. However, he later changed his mind, hoping to bring awareness to the disease. He even did a PSA with the American Cancer Society in the 70s.

The announcement began with a clip from the 1976 film, The Shootist, in which the doctor tells John Wayne’s character John Bernard Brooks of his terminal illness. The actor himself then revealed that 12 years prior to the film’s release, he lost a piece of his lung to his own battle.

He ended the sincere message in classic Duke manner: “We’ve made real progress since then, but it costs money. And the American Cancer Society is asking you for help again. And, pilgrim, if you don’t give it to them, I’m gonna kick you in the butt.”

Later, John Wayne reflected on his decision to go public with his fight against cancer.

“I thought to myself: ‘I was saved by early detection. Movie image or not, I think I should tell my story so that other people can be saved by getting annual checkups,’” Wayne said at the time in an Associated Press piece.

Unfortunately, the illness returned in the form of stomach cancer, and 15 years later, he passed away. Since then, Wayne’s family has dedicated their efforts to finding a cure, which is why they created the John Wayne Cancer Foundation.