Run for a Good Cause

Photo courtesy of Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team In Training

When Julie Westcott's doctor told her she couldn't leave the hospital because she had acute myelogenous leukemia, her first reaction was: "This is really bad timing. I'm training for a marathon." A few months prior, Westcott, a recreational runner who lives in San Diego, had signed up with her local chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team In Training (TNT)--a fund-raising program that supports research for blood cancers--to train for the 2007 San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon.

Though she was unable to run that year, Westcott attended the marathon and learned that her friend, Mike Sheehy, had formed Team Julie in her honor, raising more than $5,000 for the cause. "When I saw this sea of runners in purple shirts raising money for something that could save my life," she says, "I lost it." Friends handed her a letter at the race that read: "We dare you to get better, kick cancer to the curb and run the marathon next year."

Last June, Westcott, who is now in remission, followed through on the bet and completed the 2008 San Diego Rock 'n'Roll Marathon with TNT. Now a mentor for the program, she's currently training for the Carlsbad Marathon.

TNT began 21 years ago when Bruce Cleland organized a group of New York athletes to train for the New York City Marathon and raise money for blood cancer research to help his young daughter, Georgia, who had been diagnosed with leukemia. It's now the largest endurance sports training and fund-raising program in the world, with 68 chapters of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in the U.S. and Canada.

TNT has helped more than 380,000 participants complete races and raise more than $900 million to fund research and outreach for leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

Stephanie Max, 50, signed up with TNT to train for the 2008 San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon at her friend Tracy Peraza's urging. "We didn't know anyone who had leukemia," says Max. "But we wanted to challenge ourselves to do something new."

The weekly training sessions became a social activity. Every Saturday was a long run, the cornerstone of the training program. A smaller group would meet Wednesday nights for runs along the promenade, followed by drinks at a local bar. "We had a lot of fun with it," says Max. "I wouldn't have been able to do it without a group."

In exchange for fund-raising--amounts vary depending on the race location--TNT participants receive personal coaching, training mentors and a daily training plan designed for an endurance event--from a marathon, half marathon, century ride or triathlon. (A hiking program will be introduced this spring.)

Members also can attend seminars on everything from purchasing the right gear to nutrition. Each local chapter hosts weekly group runs (food, water and sports drinks provided) with pace groups for everyone from beginners to elites. And TNT does all the travel planning and organization for the race. On event day, coaches provide support along the course.

Above all, TNT participants receive the satisfaction that comes with supporting a good cause. All TNT runners are matched with a patient in the community; meet-and-greets allow racers and patients to connect and share stories. Max kept a photo of the "honored teammate" she was running for in her cubicle at work. "People would see it and ask about him, and that's how I raised my funds." Max raised $2,000, $500 more than her fund-raising minimum.

At the Nike Women's Marathon last October, Melissa Casteel, 31, was one of the honored participants. Six months pregnant when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, Casteel signed up for TNT to run the Nike race. "I was so unmotivated and tired, and I needed to do something big to get over that. Without TNT, I wouldn't have been motivated to push past my weakness," she says.

To learn more about how to sign up with a local chapter or the online Virtual Team In Training program, visit teamintraining.org.
 

Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure

Peggy Campbell-Rush, a 54-year-old kindergarten teacher from Mansfield Township, New Jersey, says Susan. G. Komen Race for the Cure saved her life. At 42 she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer and underwent a full mastectomy and chemotherapy. After her third treatment, her husband convinced her to run the Princeton Race for the Cure. "I thought he was crazy," she recalls. "I couldn't even put one foot in front of the other."

Campbell-Rush, a lifelong athlete and runner, was shocked when she found herself jogging the course and sobbing the entire way. "I couldn't believe people who didn't even know me were cheering for me. I felt like I was part of this bigger family."

Now cancer-free, she accomplished a lifetime goal of placing in the overall top three in the New York City Race for the Cure in the survivor category.

More than 25 years ago, Nancy Brinker promised her dying younger sister, Susan G. Komen, that she would fight to end breast cancer. Today, that promise is being fulfilled through Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a global breast cancer movement that Brinker created in 1982 in hopes that one person could make a difference.

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