The emotional connection is understandable for those involved in a concert this weekend. For people such as student organizers Sarah Pankratz and Caleb Bray, Saturday’s annual Courage To Climb fundraiser for cancer research is personal.

Prankratz lost her grandfather, Tom Pankratz, to lung cancer, and her grandmother, Joan Pankratz, to leukemia. Bray’s mom, Karen, recently was declared cancer-free after being diagnosed in May 2015 with stage 3C colorectal cancer.

“She thought it was really cool if I could get involved in this,” Bray said of his and Pankratz’s senior project.

Bray and Pankratz are among about 60 participants, including local high schoolers and community members, involved in the event that raises money for the Indianapolis-based Hoosier Cancer Research Network.

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The event began in 2009 as a way for choir students to support Columbus North High School choral teacher and singer Janie Gordon as she successfully battled breast cancer. Its scope broadened afterward. The event’s name came from a motto Gordon adopted during her treatment.

Courage To Climb, which attracts about 300 people each year, has raised more than $20,000 for the fight since the fundraiser began.

Gordon helps organize the event these days with student coordinators. Musical selections from students and others will include classics such as The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” and newer tunes such as Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” and Pentatonix’s “Light in the Hallway.” Plus, Chisa Zensho will dance to Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb.”

Pankratz, in her fourth year being part of the show, will sing a solo, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

“There’s no direct connection with that song other than the fact that we’ve always loved it in our family,” she said.

Many of the tunes are selected for the 90-minute show specifically for their inspirational quality, according to organizers.

“We definitely want the concert to be uplifting,” Bray said. “But it’s also reflective. It reminds us to appreciate all that we have and to be thankful for it.

“And it reminds those of us with loved ones battling cancer that their illness is not the end of the road.”

Gordon has seen the event lift the spirits of those right in the midst of their cancer battle. Some have been awash in tears of gratitude by the end of the night.

Some of this year’s performers, such as Gordon, have battled a form of cancer and won.

“The music is so very healing,” Gordon said. “It’s crazy how it touches people — and lets them know that they’re not alone.”

Join the fight

What: Annual Courage To Climb concert

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Columbus North High School’s Judson Erne Auditorium, 1400 25th St. in Columbus

Purpose: Raises money for the Hoosier Cancer Research Network, generating more than $20,000 since 2009.

Admission: $15 at the door

To donate if you cannot attend:

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5672.