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Boston Marathon a fitting tribute for families touched by ALS

Siblings among teams raising money for ALS research at UMass Chan

Running the Boston Marathon to support amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) research at UMass Chan Medical School is a family affair this year as two sets of siblings are on teams racing for a cure.

Sisters Lacey Foley (left) and Ashley Craig and of East Bridgewater are running the Boston Marathon for the UMass ALS Cellucci Fund.

Sisters Ashley Craig and Lacey Foley of East Bridgewater are participating in the April 17 event on the UMass ALS Cellucci Fund Boston Marathon Team in memory of their grandmother, Linda Harrington. Brothers Dean and Zack Kennedy, PhD’19, are raising funds to honor their father, a veteran of 37 Boston Marathons who died from ALS in 2020, on #TeamJake/The Jake Kennedy ALS Fund Marathon Team.

Zack Kennedy, PhD’19
Dean Kennedy

The two marathon teams hope to raise $100,000 this year to support ALS research at UMass Chan.

Dr. Kennedy, one of Jake Kennedy and his wife, Sparky’s, four children, was mentored at UMass Chan by Robert H. Brown Jr., DPhil, MD, the Donna M. and Robert J. Manning Chair in Neurosciences and professor of neurology. Zack worked until recently in the lab overseen by Anastasia Khvorova, PhD, the Remondi Family Chair in Biomedical Research and professor of RNA therapeutics. He now is a scientist at biopharmaceutical company CANbridge.

Zack was a lab technician for Dr. Brown when Brown found the gene mutation that causes most cases of familial ALS, a mutation that has affected several members of the Kennedy family.

“When I started in 2011, there was not a lot of progress in terms of creating medicines. It has been really within the past five years, as gene editing and gene manipulating therapies have started to mature, that we are beginning to have treatments and they are very, very promising,” said Zack. “We’re trying to create the best way to target some of these gene mutations and create a better drug for clinical trials, so in the not-too-far future we can have meaningful treatments.”

Before Jake Kennedy died, he vowed to raise $1 million for ALS research, Zack said. He and his brother Dean, a football coach at College of the Holy Cross, are committed to continuing their father’s marathon streak and ultimately reaching his fundraising goal.

Craig and Foley also come from a close-knit family and are running their first marathon for the UMass ALS Cellucci Fund after their grandmother died from ALS in 2020, less than a year after her illness was diagnosed.

Foley, a school adjustment counselor in the Middleborough Public Schools, has participated in fundraisers such as the Polar Plunge for ALS and golf tournaments to raise money for cancer research, but she has never run a marathon.

“Watching someone you love suffer in any capacity motivates you to want to do whatever you can to bring awareness, raise money, whatever that may be,” said Foley. “I said jokingly that we should run the marathon, because to non-runners, the pain you would go through would kind of mirror the pain that she had to go through. That’s when we really decided to do it.”

Craig, an elementary special education teacher in Natick, has been dealing with health issues of her own. But she wanted to run the marathon to prove to herself and others going through something similar that they could find the strength to do it, while raising money for ALS research.

Craig and Foley organized a gala in March as a centerpiece of their fundraising efforts, with a DJ and raffle prizes, including a hockey stick signed by Bruins player Patrice Bergeron, which the late Gov. Paul Cellucci’s daughter donated.

More than 50 individuals have been part of the UMass ALS Cellucci Fund marathon team through the John Hancock Marathon Non-Profit Program, which provides bibs to select nonprofit organizations. These runners have raised more than $660,000. The UMass ALS Cellucci Fund has raised $5.5 million since it was launched in 2011.

Other members of the 2023 UMass ALS Cellucci Fund Boston Marathon Team include:

Kirstyn Grant, Wallingford, Connecticut
Grant is a U.S. patient services lead at Amylyx Pharmaceuticals, which is dedicated to finding new treatments for neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS.

Michael McCorkle, Tequesta, Florida
McCorkle is the senior vice president of workplace strategy at Fiserv, a global leader in fintech and payments, which will provide a corporate sponsorship of $25,000. He has run six marathons but will be making his Boston Marathon debut this year.

Paul McNeil, Worcester
McNeil is a friend of the extended Cellucci family. He has run the Boston Marathon six times for charities, including last year for the UMass ALS Cellucci Fund, for which he raised almost $13,000.