My first half marathon was done in Honor of a young woman who had battled cancer and won. I trained, raised money and ran for a cause near and dear to my heart. Since then I have run six more halves and decided that running for more than myself would keep me motivated. I love running but as we all know, sometimes it gets hard.
To keep myself grounded and focused throughout the training season (especially those cold winter months) I never race a half marathon without choosing an Honored Hero. Running for kids battling cancer may not work for everyone, but it never fails to keep my feet moving. Sometimes I pray when I run, sometimes I listen to music, but not a training run goes by that I don’t think of my hero. There’s a danger in getting to know children with cancer…sometimes we lose them.
Three winters ago, I was training for a half marathon in Pittsburgh. I was headed there with my good friend and running buddy Carla Demeuse. Carla was planning to run the half in Honor of her dad who was battling cancer and near the end of his fight. I was running in Honor of a local middle schooler named Ella who was also fighting cancer.
The many hours and miles we logged together were spent talking about many things, but cancer and our honored heroes were never far from our thoughts. Finally, May came and we headed to our race. When we had safely arrived in Pittsburgh, stormed the expo and checked into our hotel, we got the call. Carla’s father had passed away. She was devastated and torn, what to do? After talking to her sister, we decided dad would want her to stay, run the race, then head home. We changed her back tag to In Memory Of, and tried to sleep. I worried about my best friend and running buddy, her tossing and turning, broken hearted but determined to run hard for her father.
The next day proved to be anything but ideal race weather, it was hot and rained throughout the entire race. But race we did. We ran with others in our minds and hearts, and both shed tears for that horrible enemy- Cancer.
After the race, we showered and jumped in the van to get Carla back to her family. After the death of her dad, running kept my friend sane. We continued to train together, logging miles and talking about life.
The next spring, we lost young Ella, my sweet hero from the Pittsburgh race. Something just urged me to find someone to race the next years race in Memory of Ella. She just HAD to be on the course again, in spirit. I reached out on the Dick’s Sporting Goods Marathon Facebook page, one just like this one, full of good people…an amazing running committee.
On the other side of the country, a woman saw my plea, and took it to her training group. That year, over twenty runners ran with Ella bracelets on their wrists and love in their hearts. She was on the course, again.
I guess what hits me the hardest is not just the pain and unfairness of cancer, but the willingness of total strangers to make my mission their own. To those runners in Pittsburgh, Ella is a stranger. But yet they understand the need I have to keep her memory alive and on that course. But I am not surprised, because runners are an amazing group of people.
NOTE the photo is the back of one Pittsburgh TNT Chapter runner. She added our sweet Ella to the back of her jersey on race day.