Erica’s 5K Run/Walk set for Sept. 20 in Merrimack

MERRIMACK – Erica Pombrio’s family called her a “tomboy in dresses” who grew up to be a smart, funny and compassionate young woman.

Pombrio died of cancer in 2009 when she was 23, and over the last five years, her friends and family, through the Erica Pombrio Foundation, have held the Erica’s 5K Run/Walk to Strike Back Against Cancer to raise money for local families dealing with cancer.

The annual event has helped raise $45,000 since 2010.

The family-friendly event will be held Saturday, Sept. 20, at Merrimack High School.

Race day registration will begin at 8 a.m. with greetings and remembrances, followed by a Kids 1K Fun Run at 9. The Erica’s 5K Run/Walk will kick off at about 9:30.

In 2008, when Pombrio was diagnosed with liposarcoma, a form of cancer that develops into a tumor from fat cells, she vowed that when she got better, she would do something to help other cancer patients and their families.

Pombrio’s mother, Lisa Spinney, agreed, and after Pombrio lost her yearlong battle, family and close friends wanted to make sure she wouldn’t be forgotten and, at the same time, help local families.

That was when the Erica Pombrio Foundation was founded. Pombrio’s siblings, Mike, 29, Katherine, 22, and Jackie, 20, are involved.

This year, the foundation hopes to top its biggest year, 2012, when it had 436 runners.

The money helps families stricken with cancer in a variety of ways: perhaps to pay for a dinner or a month’s rent, or to make up for taking an extra week off from work.

The foundation was able to help 14 local families so far, said Spinney, who owns and runs a martial arts studio, Strikeback Dynamic Defense in Merrimack.

One little girl was able to swim with dolphins, which is something Pombrio had wanted to do.

“We give the money right back to local families,” Spinney said.