On July 7 at exactly 7 p.m. — or “7/7 @ 7” as advertised on the event’s promotional materials — nearly 200 local runners clad in glow stick necklaces, light-up rings and neon unicorn horns descended on Techny Prairie Park in Northfield raring to race.
And on the track, the number 7 was just as ubiquitous. Sevens peppered runners’ shirts, jerseys and sweatbands; one organizer even joked that “we almost considered changing the race distance from 5K to 7K.”
This abundance of 7’s was not a coincidence, but a tribute.
“Dylan wore the number 7 on his football jersey,” said Julia Bazianos, a junior at Glenbrook North High School. “Football meant so much to him, so we started using (the number) as a symbol.”
For many North Shore community members, Bazianos included, 7 is a number synonymous with Dylan Buckner, the 18-year-old Glenbrook North senior and football team quarterback who died by suicide in January 2021.
Buckner passed just months before his graduation, following a battle with mental illness that was exacerbated by “the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic,” his parents wrote on the Dylan Buckner Foundation website.
Buckner was the inspiration behind the Friday Night Lights Glow Run fundraiser, a nod to Buckner’s love for football, organized by Bazianos and New Trier High School junior Lily Wolfe to “make a positive difference in mental health awareness and research,” according to the event’s webpage.
The proceeds from the Glow Run — which welcomed more than 180 racers from Northbrook, Glenview, Wilmette, Winnetka and surrounding communities — benefit the Dylan Buckner Foundation, an organization founded by Buckner’s family in the months after his passing.
The Buckners’ aims are twofold: They hope to “encourage those grappling with mental health issues to seek help and support” while promoting “alternative treatments for mental health conditions” beyond “traditional pharmaceutical approaches,” according to the foundation’s website. To date, the family has funded around $60,000 in scholarships for local students, as well as supported two research grants totaling $50,000 at Stanford Medical School.
The idea for the Glow Run, however, did not come from the Buckners. Rather, the race was the brainchild of the foundation’s recently formed student leadership team, aptly named the DB7 Junior Board.
“I was looking for ways to get more involved,” Wolfe said, “so I reached out to the Buckners. They put me in touch with Julia (Bazianos), and we had the idea to start a youth board for the foundation.”
Right now, the board totals two: Wolfe and Bazianos. The duo, undeterred by size, quickly began laying the groundwork for the Glow Run earlier this year.
“They called me on the phone one day in April,” remembered Karen Buckner, Dylan’s mother, “and within 20 minutes we were brainstorming ideas for the event.”
While Wolfe, Bazianos and the Buckners had high hopes for the race, they were not entirely sure what to expect. “It’s our first event as a board,” Bazianos said. “We weren’t sure anybody was going to show up.”
They optimistically ordered 65 T-shirts and set a fundraising goal of $7,000, a benchmark Wolfe said the team “never thought we’d meet.”
The board certainly didn’t imagine that they would smash the goal a week in advance of the event. With seven days to go and just more than 100 racers registered, the DB7 team bumped their fundraising target to $10,777 — “To keep with the sevens,” Wolfe said — but ended up breaking that ceiling again just a couple days later.
By the time the racers crossed the finish line Friday evening, all 180 of them, the Glow Run had raised more than $16,000 for the foundation. That number has surpassed $17,000 as of press time.
Participating students at a number of local high schools — including Glenbrook North, Glenbrook South, New Trier and Loyola Academy — banded together with their peers in fundraising teams. Many others donated individually.
“It’s amazing to see how many people are showing up, how many people are giving,” Bazianos said.
Also important for Wolfe and Bazianos, however, is the attention the race is attracting for their youth board.
“We were hoping the Glow Run would get more people interested in signing up,” Wolfe said.
Luckily, their efforts seem to be working. As students and families checked in for the race, the interest sheet Wolfe and Bazianos set out for prospective DB7 board members was rapidly filling with signatures.
“With more people involved, we’re hoping to keep this tradition running and hold a Glow Run every year,” Wolfe said. “And in the future, we want to hold a lot of different events with a lot more people.”
Karen Buckner said that, through their work over the past few months, the girls have breathed new life into the foundation.
“With so much fundraising and organizing on social media these days, it’s crucial to have young people involved,” she said. “We just had an incoming high school freshman sign up for the youth board. That’s what’s going to keep these traditions, and this organization, going.”
In the minutes leading up to the race, Karen Buckner was running around just as much as Wolfe and Bazianos, greeting guests and registering racers with the machine-like energy of a seasoned event planner.
But as runners began to congregate at the start line, she swapped metaphorical hats to say a few words — no longer as race coordinator or foundation director, but as Dylan’s mom.
“Ya know, in a card Dylan once gave me, he wrote, ‘Mom, I wanna run races together,’” she said with tears in her eyes. “So today, I’m running this with him.”
The Record is a nonprofit, nonpartisan community newsroom that relies on reader support to fuel its independent local journalism.
Subscribe to The Record to fund responsible news coverage for your community.
Already a subscriber? You can make a tax-deductible donation at any time.