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Patients motivate woman's marathon effort

July 19, 2004|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - If you're going to train for six months to run a marathon, you might as well run one where there's magnificent scenery, it's light for 24 hours a day and you raise a lot of money for a worthy cause.

That's exactly what Cheryl Brown of Chambersburg did in running the Mayor's Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska, on June 19. The sun doesn't set in Alaska on that date.

Brown ran under The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training program, which began in 1988. Since then, 190,000 participants have raised $430 million. Sixteen people from central Pennsylvania ran this year's Midnight Sun.

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Brown covered her race-day jersey with ribbons naming each of her 80 sponsors. She raised $5,500 for the society, and paid her own expenses so all the money she raised could go to the cause.

A key element of the Team in Training experience is training in honor of a local blood-cancer survivor whose courage provides motivation and inspiration, according to the society.

Brown ran for three patients: 6-year-old Nick, who is being treated for leukemia at Hershey (Pa.) Medical Center; 5-year-old Taylor, a leukemia patient from St. Thomas, Pa.; and Hodgkin's lymphoma survivor Don Martin of Carlisle, Pa., who oversees Weis Markets in Maryland. She also ran in memory of a childhood friend, Kevin Genero, who died of leukemia at age 20.

Martin and Brown had lunch together before the marathon.

"She's an absolutely wonderful lady. She's enthusiastic and dedicated," Martin said. "I spoke with her after she completed the race; she's disappointed it's over."

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society helped him when he was ill in 2000, Martin said. Now a participant in the Society's Light the Night program, Martin said he got involved "because of the tremendous amount of support they gave me and my wife during my illness. They do a lot of work searching for a cure and also providing patient services," such as covering transportation costs and drug costs not covered by insurance.

Martin said he is touched by volunteers like Brown who work so hard to train for a marathon.

"So many months of commitment - what can you say but thanks?"

Brown plans to visit Nick at Hershey today and present him with her race medal and a stuffed husky dog.

"He misses his own dog so much," she said.

Sitting on a bench on the grounds of Wilson College, where she works as interim assistant vice president of advancement, Brown talked about power walking and jogging for 26.2 miles. Although she is asthmatic, she said she had no problems during the race.

Race-day weather was perfect for the 3,700 runners, Brown said.

"The air was crisp and perfect, and the temperature in the low 70s. (Team in Training) dominates this marathon. At the start, I thought about why I was doing this and that it would be over soon," she said.

"The race started in Anchorage at a school, then went along a bike path, then went for 10 miles on a tank trail at an Army base," she said.

Dirt and rocks made the tank trail rough going, so Brown went slowly to avoid spraining her ankle.

"I thought, 'I got here, I'm going to finish,'" she said. "The scenery was beautiful; I took photos along the way."

Brown also took note of her fellow racers.

"I passed a walker with no hair - a woman who was under treatment. Another walker had a metal leg," she said.

At mile 25, a woman was standing with a sign that said, "Thank you. I'm alive today because of you. I had leukemia."

"I lost it. The tears started pouring," Brown said.

While Brown hoped to finished more quickly, her time was 5:59.

"I was right in the middle of the finishers. You turn corners, run through some balloons and onto the track, and 'Wow! I did it!'"

Brown raised $1,200 more than her goal.

"I'm a fund-raiser, so that was the easy part. But the personal commitment was to train every day. I trained in the pouring rain - and I hate being wet. You think of the honor patients, and you do it.

"My message is that you have to give back. Volunteer. Donate. You need to have a cause," she said.

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