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Timberline PK-8 Teacher Cassandra Gilbert Named Beneficiary of This Year’s Longmont Happy Smackah 5K

March 1, 2019
Cassandra Gilbert, the beneficiary of this year's Happy Smackah 5K, gets a high five from her husband, Jase, Wednesday after her effort on a climbing wall at the Longmont Climbing Collective. Gilbert went climbing just after her latest radiation treatment for cancer. At right, her daughter, Chloe, 11, gets ready to climb. See more photos at timescall.com

If you go

What: Happy Smackah 5K Fun Run/Walk

When: 8 a.m. May 11

Where: Lake McIntosh, Longmont

Cost: Children (5 and younger), $1; youth (6 to 12), $15; teen (13 to 17), $25; adult (18 to 54), $35; and senior (55 and older), $25. All participants receive an event T-shirt.

More info: happysmackah.com

When the Happy Smackah Foundation called Cassandra Gilbert to tell her she was chosen as the latest beneficiary of the Longmont nonprofit’s annual run, her first reaction was “there has to be someone more worthy than me.”

Having just begun a 25-day radiation therapy program to fight her breast cancer, after just completing a 20-week chemotherapy regimen and four surgeries, no one could be more worthy of the award, but her reaction speaks volumes about the kind of person Gilbert is.

Founded in 2011 to benefit teacher Dan Cribby, who had his arm and shoulder amputated after contracting a systemic bacterial infection, the Happy Smackah 5K Fun Run/Walk was named after one of Cribby’s favorite phrases, “Happy Smackah,” which he reserved for people with positive attitudes.

“Every year when I call the Happy Smackah they’re so humble and say there must be someone more deserving, it’s just kind of a part of what the Happy Smackah is about,” said Karen Cribby, a Happy Smackah Foundation board member and wife of Dan Cribby. “There were 40 applications and they were certainly all deserving, but what really stood out about Cassandra was her senses of purpose, commitment and positivity really spoke loudly to us.”

Particularly impressive, Karen Cribby said, was Gilbert’s drive to continue teaching at Timberline PK-8 in Longmont throughout her treatments.

“I mean she had a double mastectomy on a Thursday and went back to work Tuesday because she wanted to greet her incoming students,” Karen Cribby said. “How do you do that?”

In fact, throughout the entire 20-week of chemo regimen, Gilbert set up her schedule so she could leave early each Friday, take the weekend to recover and be back to work each Tuesday. She actually got upset with the radiation therapists when they told her the latest appointment they could do on a Friday was 3:15 p.m., 15 minutes before her classes got out.

“Throughout chemo I felt like I had the flu for all 20 weeks, but the more of this that I can control when it all seems to be out of control, the better it was for me,” she said. “I couldn’t just be at home all the time. I wanted to be at work, I wanted to be working with my teammates and be there for my students. I think it helped.”

Through it all Gilbert credits her positive attitude to a deep-seated drive to maintain some sense of normalcy for herself, as well as her husband, Jase Gilbert, and their daughter, Chloe. Life has become a lot easier now that her chemo is over, but she still hasn’t recovered the seemingly endless amount energy for which many came to know her.

Prior to her diagnosis on Friday, July 13, 2018, Gilbert was an avid rock climber and long-distance runner who participated in several Happy Smackah Fun Runs over the years. Though she won’t be able to run the Happy Smackah this year, Gilbert has started to run again and each week tries to go climbing with her family at the Longmont Climbing Collective.

Though it might seem like a small victory, the act of getting out with her family and trying to remain active is what got her nominated as this year’s Happy Smackah recipient. The $20,000 to $30,000 raised during the event will greatly help her family get things back to normal once she completes her radiation. Like any good long-distance runner, though, she remains focused on her end goal, not the highs and lows of the race.

“It’s hard to feel worth for something like this, we were definitely very surprised and thankful,” she said. “But I’m just trying to get through this and get things back to normal. I’m just glad the cancer is gone and I hope it doesn’t come back.”

John Spina: 303-473-1389, jspina@times-call.com or twitter.com/jsspina24