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Team of five running in Boston Marathon to support ALS research at UMMS

Race postponed until September 14

By Kylee Denesha

UMass Medical School Communications

April 07, 2020

Due to ongoing concerns about the impact of the coronavirus, the 124th Boston Marathon will not happen as planned in April, but has been rescheduled for September. The last time Marathon Monday was postponed was in 1918.

 
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Jennifer Bolanos trains for her fourth Boston Marathon.

On Sept. 14, runners will still lace up and raise money for causes across the nation. A team of five New Englanders is supporting the UMass ALS Cellucci Fund this year, with a goal of raising $50,000 for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis research at UMass Medical School.

One of the Cellucci Fund team members is Alyssa Smith, a health and physical education teacher at a high school in Woodstock, Vt. She’s running to honor the partner of her friend of 15 years who diagnosed with ALS four years ago. Smith is inspired by his motto, “If not me, then who?”

“I have watched them both fight this disease together from day one and I’ve seen the toll it takes on their family,” said Smith. “I witness their daily struggles and I am so inspired by their strength.”

Despite the disappointment of having to postpone running in the marathon until fall, Smith views this as an opportunity. “This allows us more time to raise money for such an important cause. I have received endless support from my family and friends.”

Also running on the Cellucci Fund team this year are Jennifer Bolanos of Wilmington; Ivy Mwangi and Jonathan Smith of Worcester; and Vinay Sampson of Monroe, Conn.

In her fourth Boston Marathon (and her 13th overall), Bolanos will honor her friend’s husband, Paul Lydon, who lost his battle with ALS 10 years ago. Paul was an avid runner who left behind four children. Bolanos is inspired by his family, as well as the work being done at UMMS.

“I have heard Dr. Brown speak and am excited to hear the advancements being made,” Bolanos explained. “I watched Alice care for Paul as his health quickly declined, while at the same time caring for their children. I am honored to be a member of this team and to help families like the Lydons.” 

Bolanos added that although it’s discouraging that the run is pushed off, she is just as committed to raising money for ALS as ever and is looking forward to running in September. 

Mwangi is a clinical research assistant at Boston Children’s Hospital. A Worcester native, she is running in honor of her uncle who was diagnosed with ALS several years ago; he is now unable to walk.

“I am inspired to run the Boston Marathon for the Cellucci Fund team, because groundbreaking ALS research is the reason my uncle is alive today and the need for more groundbreaking research is urgent,” she said.

Smith lost his grandmother to ALS in 2013. An assistant store director at Big Y in Holden, he and his wife are strong advocates for local charities. This will be his first ever marathon.

Sampson’s run will be dedicated to his older brother, a father figure to him, who succumbed to ALS in 2015. After nearly losing his leg in an accident, Sampson decided to take up running and began participating in marathons. This will be his first Boston, and his sixth overall.

The mission of the UMass ALS Cellucci Fund is to create a $10 million endowment to support research at UMMS and interdisciplinary labs under the direction of Robert H. Brown Jr., DPhil, MD, the Leo P. and Theresa M. LaChance Chair in Medical Research and professor of neurology. Dr. Brown treated late Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci when he was diagnosed with ALS in 2011. Gov. Cellucci dedicated the last years of his life to raising awareness and supporting research through the former UMass ALS Champion fund, now called the Cellucci Fund. This is the ninth year that runners supporting the fund have taken part in the John Hancock nonprofit marathon program.

To learn more or make a donation, visit https://charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/umassalscelluccifund.