When I decided to run the Boston Marathon, I expected the training process to be long, strenuous, and physically demanding. What I did not fully expect was the emotional ride this journey would take me on as well.
Dana-Farber is such an amazing charity to run for. They host group runs, informational meetings, dinners, and have 24/7 access to our training coach and other teammates online. They also offer something called the "In-Memory Program". This program allows a Dana-Farber runner to run in memory of a child who was treated at Dana-Farber, but sadly lost their battle to cancer. The runner and the child's family meet and connect throughout the training months, all the way up to marathon Monday. This program seemed very unique to me, and it was something I was interested in being a part of, so I applied back in November with hopes I would be accepted and matched with a family.
In January, I received an email saying I was accepted to the program, and was matched up with the Hayes Family from Sandwich, Ma, in memory of their son, Jeff. When I read this email, I was excited and nervous all at once. The email didn't say anything specific about Jeff. I didn't know which form of cancer he had, or even how old he was when he passed away. I then emailed Jeff's mom, Susan, and introduced myself and asked her to share anything she wanted to about Jeff. She responded and included some great pictures of Jeff, and we made arrangements to meet at the upcoming dinner for the In-Memory program participants in February at Maggianos in Boston. I really didn't know what to expect from this program, and was very anxious to meet Jeff's parents and learn about him.
A few weeks passed and it was finally time to meet the Hayes Family. Pat and I walked into Maggianos and I saw Susan (I recognized her from a picture on her email signature!). She gave me a huge hug and said "thank you" and handed me a stack of DVD's for me to watch that are all of Jeff. I then met her husband, John, who also gave me a big hug, and right then and there, I felt a connection to them I can't explain but I knew this was the start of something very special. We sat down and began talking right away, all while served an amazing dinner at Maggianos. We had so much to talk about and they were so easy to talk to, which made it even better! They told me all about Jeff. I can't do their stories justice but here is a background on Jeff: Jeff lost his two year battle with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, in 2007 at the age of 17. Jeff was an outstanding baseball and hockey player, and wore #12 on the ice. He never complained about his treatments or wanted people to feel bad for him. He was an inspiration to his teammates, coaches, teachers, and pretty much everyone in their community. The Boston Bruins were a big part of his life during treatments. Players would visit him at Dana-Farber, give him tickets to games, skate with him when he was able to, and even bought him a Playstation 3 when they were impossible to get. Jeff has left such an impact on so many people and he lives on through the memories and stories that are told.
At dinner, Susan, John, and I made arrangements for me to come to the "1st Annual Jeff Hayes Memorial Hockey Tournament" in Bourne, Ma, which was on Feb 20th. I was honored to be invited to this event and was excited to be able to see the place where Jeff skated and spent a lot of his time. The hockey rink was full of people, all there in memory of Jeff. I was able to meet Jeff's cousin, Julie, who ran the 2011 Boston Marathon in memory of Jeff. We got to chat about training, the race, and everything else that comes with the marathon. At this point in the tournament, they planned a beautiful opening ceremony on center ice of which they invited me to be a part of. They announced me as Jeff's runner in the 2012 Boston Marathon and called me on the ice. I was presented with flowers and was able to stand next to his parents and Julie.
So many emotions shot through me at that moment, but I was so honored to be there running for such an amazing, inspiring boy. The ceremony ended with a slideshow of Jeff, showcasing some of his greatest memories and pictures of how people honored his life after he passed. (You can read more about the hockey tournament, and Jeff here.) Leaving the rink that night gave me all of the motivation in the world to get to the finish line. In addition to my grandmother, I will be running the marathon for Jeff. Both of these people didn't deserve the fate they were given, yet never complained or felt bad for themselves. They are both such an inspiration to me and to so many others.
This marathon is so much more than just running. I have had the chance to tell my grandmother's story to so many people, and have had the chance to relive the memories I made with her as a child. I have also had the chance to meet the Hayes family, who have been through so much, yet are always smiling and always happy and willing to tell a story about Jeff. I am so grateful to have found Dana-Farber and have been accepted to the marathon team. When looking back at this experience, I won't remember how tired I was during a run, or how I skipped a day of cross training. Its the memories I am making with the people I am meeting, the stories I am hearing, and the funds I am raising to find a cure for cancer.