On Monday, seven runners will help change the course of a disease that devastates 5,600 people and their families every year.
Russell Becker, Brendan Byrne, Charlie Desourdy, Lauren Grenier, Susan Marshall, John Megan and Joseph Strauss will run the Boston Marathon in support of the UMass ALS Champion Fund, supporting research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Launched with help from former Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci, who has ALS, the Champion Fund benefits the work of Robert H. Brown Jr., DPhil, MD, Cellucci’s doctor and a leading scientist in neurodegenerative and neuromuscular diseases.
Each of the runners has a personal connection to the disease and each has committed to raising at least $6,000 that will go directly to Dr. Brown’s team.
Russell Becker grew up watching two of his uncles run the Boston Marathon. Cheering them on was a family tradition. But growing up, he also witnessed the deaths of his grandfather at 66 and another uncle at 31 from ALS.
At 15, Becker, who is now a senior at College of Charleston, weighed 300 pounds and was struggling in high school. He was inspired by his uncles’ love of running enough to try it himself. Running alone late at night because he was self conscious about his weight, he gradually transformed himself into a runner and in the process lost 120 pounds. He ran his first 5-mile race that same year in honor of his uncle Jimmy Kennedy, whose life was cut short by ALS.
“I began running to benefit myself. Now I run to benefit others,” said Becker. He was inspired not only by his uncles’ love of running, but their commitment to finding a cure for ALS as well as other philanthropic endeavors. Becker’s uncle Richard Kennedy is president of the Angel Fund, a non-profit solely dedicated to funding ALS research, and his uncle Johnny Kennedy is co-founder of Christmas in the City, a non-profit that brings the spirit of Christmas to homeless families in the Boston area.
Becker ran his first Boston Marathon last year. It was a grueling experience, with the heat reaching 90 degrees and many runners dropping out. Becker proudly made it to the end and will be running again this year, wearing bib #24334.
“The more I run, the more committed I become. I’m not just running for me anymore; I’m running for a great cause that has become a huge part of my life,” Becker concluded.
John Megan has run the Boston Marathon four other times and always in support of cancer research—his mother died from heart cancer in 1995 and she served as his inspiration for his earlier runs. This year, the marathon is personal in a different way: His stepfather, Jack Brandley, is battling ALS, hoping for a cure, but knowing that it will likely come too late for him.
“It’s day by day for Jack. Right now he’s in a rehab hospital and it was touch and go over Christmastime. He’s on a vent right now, but thank God he can write and communicate with his hands,” Megan said.
Megan challenged himself to qualify for the Boston Marathon one more time, after an eight-year hiatus during which he got married and started a family. He ran the Hampton Beach Marathon in the fall of 2011, which qualified him to enter this year’s Boston. He’ll be wearing bib #7931.
“I run because I can. I’ve always considered it a privilege,” said Megan. “Unfortunately, those with ALS lose control of their limbs and they can’t do it anymore. I never take that for granted.”
For more information about the UMass ALS Champion Fund and the runners who are participating in the 2013 Boston Marathon in support of it, visit: http://umassals.com/Boston_Marathon_2013_team.
Related links on UMassMedNow:
UMMS sending eight runners to 2013 Boston Marathon
Cellucci thanks Boston Marathon runners
UMass/ALS Champion Fund
Wanted: Boston Marathon runners to support ALS research
Gov. Cellucci talks about raising money for ALS research
Donation gives greater visibility to UMass/ALS Champion Fund
Cellucci takes ALS fight to center field at Fenway
A pitch to raise millions for ALS research