Personal best: Student dedicates Disney 10K win to relative with rare blood disorder

March 1, 2022


The sides of junior cross-country runner Robbie Gunia’s shoes have the name “Caitlyn Rose” written in indelible ink.

“She gives me something to wake up for, fight for, run for, study for, and love for,” Gunia said.

Caitlyn Rose, Gunia’s first cousin, has Diamond–Blackfan anemia (DBA). Because her bone marrow fails to make red blood cells that carry oxygen through the body, she requires weekly blood transfusions.

Caitlyn was diagnosed with DBA when she was born. Their family hosts an annual blood drive to raise awareness about the disease. This year, they decided to take her on a trip to Walt Disney World in January to recognize her perseverance. The trip happened to coincide with the RunDisney 10K, and Gunia decided to run it in her honor.

“I wanted to run for her because she is a fighter,” Gunia said. “She is fighting against an incurable disease, and I wanted to fight for the win for her.”

Gunia won the race, crossing the finish line next to Mickey Mouse and Goofy with a time of 32:42 in Orlando.

“She was bursting with joy,” he said. “I wanted to give her something to remember when she is undergoing her blood transfusions.”

He credits Caitlyn as his inspiration, and the cross-country team at University of Richmond as his source of strength. He joined the team as a transfer after his freshman year, and immediately felt at home.

“Coach Steve Taylor and the Richmond cross country team accepted me into their family without hesitation,” he said. “From the first day on campus, I already felt like I was a part of the team.”

Gunia thinks of Caitlyn every time he laces up his shoes for the Spiders. 

“I do this to illustrate that I run for her and fight for her, and that she will always be with me when I win or run a personal best.”