My Chicago Marathon story and why everyone should run for charity

It’s Chicago Marathon weekend. Maybe a good time to share my Chicago Marathon story. New York City was my first, way back in 1997. Yet it’s the Chicago Marathon that is uniquely special to me. My Chicago Marathon story is one of hope and healing and ultimately survivorship and fulfillment.

I trained through the winter of 2014 for the New Jersey Marathon which was to be held that year on April 27. On March 19 with just 5 weeks left of training I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I did what anyone would do at that point. I signed up for the Chicago Marathon. I figured if I wasn’t able to run New Jersey, surely I would be back on my feet for Chicago in October. The 2014 Bank of America Chicago Marathon gave me hope.

I did get to run New Jersey that year. I ran sub-4, a personal best that still stands today. I had my surgery 10 days later and decided to defer my Chicago spot to 2015 so I could focus on my treatment. That wound up being a more important decision than I realized.

The Monday before the 2014 Chicago Marathon, October 6, my husband died – by suicide. His funeral was on Friday, the day I would have been on a flight to Chicago for marathon weekend.

In the year that followed, I used marathon training to help me heal. I decided to raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Typically, because I’m a professional fundraiser, I always chose a charity to make the whole marathon experience more meaningful and help provide inspiration during difficult training cycles. Usually I raised money for the organization for whom I worked. This was different. It took me until a month before the marathon to start fundraising. Finding the right words; finding the strength to tell my story took time. I raised $6000. The 2015 Bank of America Chicago Marathon providing healing.

Determined to create a new life for my daughter and me, once she finished high school in 2018, we moved to Chicago. She had been accepted into a college here and I had re-connected with an old work friend who had relocated to Chicago 25 years ago. I also knew the CEO of Gilda’s Club since I had been her counterpart at the NJ Affiliate a decade earlier. By the summer of 2019, I was coaching a small group of cancer survivors to run a 5k as a volunteer with Gilda’s Club, and was training for the marathon and raising funds as a member of Team Gilda. The 2019 Bank of American Chicago Marathon made me feel like a survivor.

Although, that was the last time I ran Chicago, my story of course doesn’t end there.

My search for a permanent full-time position in Chicago brought me to Mercy Home for Boys and Girls. They were looking for someone to manage their Heroes Endurance Fundraising Team. I would be working with a team of 300 runners for the marathon. Ultimately, the Bank of America Chicago Marathon provided fulfillment.

Now, Chicago Marathon week is an 80-hour work week and I love every minute, even though I don’t get to run. The work to recruit for next year’s team starts the week after the current year’s marathon and last through the spring. Summer is spent helping our runners navigate the training plan and reaching their fundraising goals – all for the ultimate purpose of giving Chicago’s children in crisis the tools they need to recover from trauma, catch up academically, and plan for a brighter future.

While I would love everyone to run the Chicago Marathon as a Mercy Home Hero, my advice to would-be charity runners is choose a charity that is personally meaningful to you.

A lot of runners run for charity as a means to secure a bib in a sold out or hard to get into race. I think everyone should run for charity, even if they don’t need to – it certainly makes the miles more meaningful and may even provide hope and healing for not just the beneficiaries of your fundraising, but for you too.

Grant Park, Chicago. October 2015

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