My Marathon Thank You

By any serious runner’s forecast, I was not supposed to finish the Marathon on November 3rd.  I joined my charity team late, which forced me to play-catch-up to the 18-week training plan. My two kids – aged 2 and 3 – still wake up most nights which left me exhausted for the Saturday morning “long runs” up and down the Hudson waterfront.  By late October, my longest training run had been only 13 miles.

But sometimes we are called to see the glass half-full.

Team “Gerry O” in Brooklyn before the Marathon started.

I was running with family, including my cousins, Orla, Gearoid, and Eoghan, and their friends, many of whom traveled from Ireland for the Marathon.  None of us had run a Marathon before, which gave us all a shared sense of impending doom about the 26.2 mile trek through NYC.  But we had a purpose: we were running in memory of Gerry O’Sullivan – father to my cousins and founder of Cork Cancer Research Centre – and raising money for Breakthrough Cancer Research, the fundraising body for CCRC.  Plus, all of us had raised thousands of dollars for Breakthrough Cancer Research; family and friends had parted with hard-earned money and lent us warm words of support.  How could we not at least try?

On the day of the Marathon I decided, as many runners do, to write my name on the front of my shirt in big, bold letters so the crowds could cheer me on as I ran.  Using fabric-grade velcro, I affixed a strip of white fabric with “BRIGID” written across it.  Running from the foot of the Verrazano Bridge into the tree-lined streets of Brooklyn, listening to ground-thumping dance music from speakers stationed in driveways and smelling barbecued chicken and burgers wafting through the air, I felt like a star.  It was thrilling to hear, in every accent imaginable, “Go Brigid!” and “You can do it!”

But at Mile 3, I got down to business.

Me at mile 3 in Brooklyn, just after switching the name on my shirt to “CLAUDIA”

As I was heading into Bay Ridge, I slowed down and pulled the white fabric labeled “BRIGID” off my chest and replaced it with a new strip labeled “CLAUDIA.”  For the next six miles – through Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Boerum Hill and Clinton Hill – I was running for Claudia Commo, a nurse I worked with in 1998-99 while serving as a Jesuit Volunteer at Omega House in Houston, Texas.

Brooklynites cheering for “CLAUDIA!!!”

Claudia was a pioneer in AIDS hospice work in Houston in the 1990s; she was kind and soft-spoken, with a self-deprecating sense of humor but a steely resolve that shone through when she had to intake residents who were still detoxing from crack or heroin.  I had not seen Claudia in over ten years, but I felt her loss when I learned this past July that she had died after a long battle of cancer.  Claudia was 100% southern – with a thick Texan accent – so I thought it would be cool to run her name through the heart of Brooklyn, past cheering crowds, block parties, and stoops packed with young urbanites holding home-made signs to cheer us all on.  It was awesome to hear “Go Claudia!” and “Vamos, Clow-dia!” the entire way.

I ran with “AUNT B” through Queens, where my Aunt Barbara was born and raised.

In Williamsburg I replaced my strip of fabric and ran miles 10 through 16 with “AUNT B” across my chest.  Aunt Barbara was my father’s sister and one of my favorite adults as a kid; she stuffed M&Ms and cans of Coke into small paper bags when we left her house for the long car ride home, and she made outings to the video rental store feel like a trip to Disney World.  She died on October 20, 2011 after a long battle with cancer.  I miss her terribly and wish my kids could have known her, which is why each cheer of her name through Brooklyn and Queens felt like a prayer to the Heavens.

Gerry O’Sullivan, founder of Cork Cancer Research Centre and my mom’s cousin.

While stretching my calves against the concrete divider on the 59th Street Bridge, I did a final swap of white fabric, peeling the velcro back to replace “AUNT B” with “GERRY O”. Gerry was my mother’s first cousin and “the outstanding Irish surgeon of his generation” according to The Irish Times.  His children, Orla and Eoghan, are now instrumental in leading “Breakthrough Cancer Research,” a fundraising organization in Cork that grew out of CCRC and seeks to transform laboratory breakthroughs into clinical treatments for cancer patients.  I wrote a separate blog post on Gerry here; he was the reason “Team Gerry” ran 26.2 miles on a cold November day in NYC, and that his children now carry on his legacy to fight cancer is the ultimate testament to him.

I was still smiling at Mile 24 as I entered Central Park. Tired, but smiling.

In the end, out of 50,304 finishers, I placed 47,493.  I ran consistently for six hours, 2 minutes, and 37 seconds, stopping only a few times for potty breaks and to stretch my legs.  My overall pace was 13:51 per mile; I was not fast, but I was a Finisher.  And more importantly, I helped raise over $3,600 for Breakthrough Cancer Research with the help of friends and family from all over the world, including Ireland, New York, Philadelphia, Houston, Chicago, Dubai, Minnesota, Nepal, Boston, Madagascar, New Jersey, New York, California, and India.  That support – from family and friends – is what propelled me through the pain, and gave me hope and inspiration despite my lackluster training.

So, to all who donated to my run, I have just a few final parting words:  I did not run the Marathon…WE ran the Marathon.  I did not raise over $3,600 money for Breakthrough Cancer Research…WE raised those funds.  And finally, I did not give meaning to Breakthrough’s vision “There is hope and that hope is in research”…WE gave meaning to that vision together.  And for that, I am forever grateful.

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A very special thank you to EVERYONE who donated to Breakthrough Cancer Research to support my 2013 NYC Marathon run.  And…if you did not yet donate, you still can – please visit my JustGiving page here.  THERE IS HOPE…AND THAT HOPE IS IN RESEARCH.