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O'Shea Communications

Dana-Farber Marathon Challengers smile as they work
From the pages of Inside the Institute (April 2003)

Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge participants include David Rowitch MD, PhD, of Pediatric Oncology; Kate Sheleg of Development; Barrett Rollins, MD, PhD, of Medical Oncology; Rebecca Donovan of Development; Kristin Lacey of Communications; and Stacy Kennedy of Nutrition Support Service.

By Joe O'Shea

Of the more than 17,000 runners who filtered over the Mass. Pike bridge near Kenmore Square during the 107th Boston Marathon® earlier this month, only about 2 percent were smiling as they surmounted the race's last significant hill.

The vast majority of these happy athletes belonged to the 14th annual Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge (DFMC) team, and they were grinning for good reason: Each year, 400 or so DFMC participants look forward to reaching the crest of the Mass. Pike bridge at Mile 25, where, despite the pain, they allow themselves at least a brief smile and a few hearty high-fives as dozens of Institute staff, Jimmy Fund Clinic patients, and friends gathered there hoot, holler, clap, and cajole them into the race's final 1.2 miles.

Such support is well earned, as each DFMC runner raises funds to support the Claudia Adams Barr Program in Innovative Basic Cancer Research at Dana-Farber. Institute Trustees J. Wayne and Delores Barr Weaver established the program in 1987 to honor Delores' mother, who died from cancer. It's hoped that this year's Challenge squad will raise a collective $3 million, boosted by a $262,000 annual challenge grant from the Weavers.

"Some folks have been running for years and years and years, but they often say that they never thought they had a marathon in them," Delores Barr Weaver said before this year's race. "They long wonder if they can do it, but once they realize why they're running, they accomplish it."

Technically, the Mile 25 mark is a DFMC runner's penultimate goal, as there's still more than a mile to go. But for those with patient partners, Mile 25 is the ultimate objective. Each year, the Patient Partner Program matches Jimmy Fund Clinic patients and survivors with DFMC participants who run in their honor. Each pair shares a special medal with their names etched on the back, and some marathoners actually get a sudden case of runner's amnesia as they reach the bridge.

"I had a long day, I ate too much before the race, and the sun was too hot for the first half of the race," said Mike Olson, a Challenge runner whose family has battled cancer. "A couple of times, I didn't think I could finish; it was really painful. But I cooled down after 13 miles and forgot about the pain because I knew I was getting closer and closer to Mile 25. There was no way I was going to quit because I knew Larry was waiting for me."

The Larry he refers to is Larry Theriault, "the future mayor of Peabody," as family friends are fond of saying. A longtime Jimmy Fund Clinic patient, the 11-year-old Theriault anxiously waited for Olson at the peak of the bridge, energetically rooting on other DFMC runners in their familiar multicolored singlets. "To me, Mike's not a runner, he's just a friend of mine," said Theriault.

After Olson met up with Theriault, the pair finished the race side by side, with Olson having to rein in his lively partner. "It was awesome," said Theriault of the final 1.2-mile run. "It was as easy as 1, 2, 3."

It was even easier for Larry's twin sister, Judith, who, along with her patient partner, Lisa Hurley, edged the Olson-Theriault tandem by a nose. "We beat the boys," Judith Theriault exclaimed. "I was waving at my brother as we ran by."

Running to heal
While Hurley and Olson had patient partners to inspire them, most DFMC participants simply call upon inspiration from within. Some race just to aid a wonderful cause, but most run in memory of loved ones.

"Many of the runners have very personal experiences with cancer, like myself, and the Challenge helps to heal them to a degree," said Delores Weaver, whose program has gained $16 million in support since the Marathon Challenge began. "This is the way that many of us fight back."

Among this year's DFMC fighters were several members of the Red Sox' extended family, including Claudia Williams, daughter of Boston Red Sox legend and Dana-Farber fundraising MVP Ted Williams; Kathryn Nixon, wife of outfielder Trot; and Teddy Werner, son of owner Tom Werner.

Former Barr Investigators David Rowitch MD, PhD, of Pediatric Oncology and Barrett Rollins, MD, PhD, of Medical Oncology and Denise Nolan of Accounting are the Institute's DFMC veterans. While Rollins couldn't race this time around because of a stress fracture in his left leg, he remained an active fundraiser for the Institute's 2003 team, which included Rowitch, Stacy Kennedy of Nutrition Support Service, Kristin Lacey of Communications, and Rebecca Donovan and Kate Sheleg of Development.

"I ran in memory of my Uncle Paul, who died from cancer six years ago when I was a senior in high school," said Sheleg, whose parents ran the last 1.2 miles with her. "It was an important emotional and physical accomplishment for me and my family.

"Wearing the Dana-Farber jersey was very inspiring throughout the race," she added. "I had my name on the front and my Uncle Paul's name on the back. People yelling, 'Thank-you Dana-Farber!' and 'You can do it Kate!' definitely propelled me to the finish."