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Going The Extra Mile

  • By Sean McKeon
  • Published Mar. 10, 2009
  • Updated Jun. 15, 2009 at 12:32 PM UTC

Even in the toughest of times, we are lucky to live in a country where people still enthusiastically donate their time and money to worthy causes that benefit those less fortunate. For us runners, walkers, bikers, hikers and triathletes, there are a number of charitable organizations that offer programs where we can train and compete for a cause to help raise funds to cure incurable and debilitating diseases. Groups like the ones represented below provide high quality training resources in exchange for fund raising efforts. Meet a few of those generous athletes.

BOB MCDONOUGH. Bob had no idea taking his son Robert on a field trip with his 5th grade class would change his life. But it did. After seeing a documentary about AIDS, the 11-year-old turned to his dad and asked, “Is there anything we can do?”

“I wasn’t ready for him to ask me that,” said Bob. “That’s what got me started.” The auto mechanic from Round Lake signed up with the AIDS Marathon Training Program to run the Chicago Marathon and raise money for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. He had never run before, but wanted to be an example for his son. That was in 2003. “The AIDS Marathon opened my eyes to this disease,” said Bob. “I’m proud to raise money and awareness every year.” For six consecutive years, Bob has run the Chicago Marathon and made a difference for people living with HIV/AIDS. “It has been an incredible journey every year.”

In 2008, Robert, now 16, was old enough to join the AIDS Marathon Training Program and make a difference along side his dad. The father and son ran step-by-step completing the Chicago Marathon together.  “I am so honored to be his father,” Bob said. “I am so thankful to the AIDS Marathon to have allowed me to live so many wonderful moments with people I now call family. It just keeps getting better and better.” For more info, visit www.aidsmarathon.com or call 312-765-0210.

THE GIVENS. Kristi and Shawn Givens of Lake Zurich, Ill. ride for a reason as part of the American Lung Association’s Lake Tour Bike Trek. The Givens ride in honor of Kristi’s mother, Linda, a non-smoker who passed away from lung cancer on Feb. 10.
During the past three years, “Linda’s Pedal Pushers” have cycled more than 450 miles and raised nearly $24,000 to support the American Lung Association’s mission: to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease. “Her strength, determination, and positive attitude has been an inspiration to us all,” Kristi says of her mother.

Join the American Lung Association for the 24th annual Lake Tour Bike Trek on June 12, 13 and 14, 2009. The Lake Tour Bike Trek is a round trip from Crystal Lake, Ill. to Lake Geneva, Wis. Participants can choose two or three day ride options and enjoy the accommodations of the Abbey Resort on the shore of Lake Geneva.  For more information and registration, visit www.laketourbiketrek.org or call 800-LUNG-USA.

KEVIN A. O’DONNELL. Kevin is a 35-year old husband and father of two.  His good friend Donna Quathamer moved to Mexico in 2000 to help struggling mothers with very practical needs. Kevin serves as a board member for Casa de los Angeles and has been to the facility in the city of San Miguel de Allende to volunteer several times along with his family and the college students with whom he works.

Although Kevin has always enjoyed swimming, biking, and a little bit of running, he never had any thoughts of running any marathon. However, while working with Team Casa last year in early April, one of the runners called him out and he joined the team. Despite the preparation, at mile 13 Kevin had to walk because of a bum knee and finished in a little more than 6 hours. Back at it for 2009, Kevin is running again to beat that dog of finish time from last year. Well, most importantly because Kevin knows that Casa is a good place doing very good things. It’s a real highlight to work with the people who join Team Casa!

MCGOWN FAMILY. In May 2005, the lives of the McGowan family changed forever when their daughter, Kathleen Joan, “Katie,” was born. Immediately following her delivery, Katie was transported to Children’s Memorial Hospital where she had surgery the following day for a bowel obstruction. Although the surgery appeared to be successful, unexpected complications caused greater challenges for Katie and her family.

The McGowan family spent the next several months in the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). After 80 days, Katie was 9 pounds, and though still being fed intravenously, able to leave the hospital. Mom, Dad and siblings (Bill and Kylie) were thrilled to welcome her home.
Despite her numerous treatments, therapies and trips to the hospital, Katie’s smile brought joy to all she met. Even as her body was continually tested by infections and other complications, Katie’s strong will and peaceful nature prevailed. But after 11 months of fighting, Katie’s body still had not responded to treatment the way her family and medical team had hoped. On April 8, 2006, surrounded by love, Katie peacefully passed away.

Shortly after her death, Michelle and her husband, Bill, formed the Kathleen Joan McGowan Memorial Fund at Children’s Memorial Hospital. The primary purpose of the fund was to construct a new break room for the NICU nurses, who provided critical support for their family during Katie’s illness. In 2008, Michelle embarked on a new journey, to support the hospital as a member of the Children’s Memorial Marathon Team. In October of that year, she completed the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

Proving her dedication to Katie’s legacy and support of Children’s Memorial, Michelle was the team’s top fundraiser, raising over $6,000. The funds raised will enable other families to receive the best possible care in the hospital’s NICU.

DANIELLE LEMONNIER. One year ago, Danielle would have argued that nothing could have topped the feeling of finishing her first marathon. Last spring, she decided to join the Charity Running Program for Girls on the Run – Chicago (GOTRC), a local nonprofit with a mission of education and preparing girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living. Danielle ran the Chicago Marathon again, this time to support GOTRC, and was then invited to participate in the GOTRC bi-annual 5K as a running buddy. Danielle was paired up with Sirena, an 11-year-old running her first race ever. Pre-race Sirena could barely contain her excitement, but as they lined up for the start, doubt settled in. Sirena was worried that she wouldn’t make it.

As Danielle and Sirena took off from the starting line, they talked about families, pets and how Sirena wanted to be an art teacher when she grew up. As they crossed the finish line together, Danielle witnessed a transformation. A girl, who only minutes earlier had doubted herself, had now accomplished something that seemed unreachable.

Regardless if she ever runs another 5K in life, Sirena accomplished something so much greater. She now knows that no matter what she faces, with a little sweat and sometimes tears, she can overcome it. Since then the Marathon has taken on a new meaning for Danielle. She runs for Sirena and the thousands of girls like her. Volunteers like Danielle help the girls in GOTRC’s program learn that they can grow into confident, powerful young women. For more information please visit www.gotrchicago.org.

ADAM MILLER. At the strike of midnight January 1, Adam registered as the first member of Jack’s Marathon Team ‘07. Why the urgency? His friend, Amy Kaphengst, a young wife and mom of two, was near the end of her battle with melanoma. Adam wanted to send her a positive message as she fought for her life.

Amy passed away a few days later. Inspired by her courageous battle, Adam spent months training for the Chicago Marathon and raising funds for the Jack H Marston II Melanoma Fund. To date Adam has run two Chicago Marathon’s in Amy’s honor and has raised over $3000 to fight melanoma. He continues to run in her memory.

In the process of fighting back against a disease that stole a dear friend, Adam found a passion for distance running. Friendships formed as miles were logged and one friendship grew special to Adam. So, during the Chicago Marathon ’08, at mile 13.1, in the midst of all the Jack’s Team supporters, Adam took a knee and proposed! Many say that Jack’s Team is like a big family. We’re sure Adam would agree: embraced in both grief and joy; sharing a common goal; working together with Strength. Passion. Focus.

DR. CHUCK MESEC. For the second year in a row, Chuck Mesec, D.D.S. of Burlington Wisconsin will run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon to benefit the Lupus Foundation of America, Illinois Chapter (LFAI). The marathon is an opportunity for Chuck to get in shape and raise awareness and funds to support a cause important to his entire family.

In 2001, Chuck’s wife Becky was diagnosed with lupus – a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and tissue damage to virtually every organ system in the body. Lupus is a serious and potentially fatal disease that can damage vital organs, such as the kidneys, heart, lungs and brain, which can cause significant disability and death.

Becky’s diagnosis changed the lives of the entire Mesec family. In the past eight years, Chuck has seen his wife suffer “more than anyone should,” he says. To fight back, Chuck decided to join the Lupus Charity Runners, a program benefiting the Lupus Foundation of America, Illinois Chapter by obtaining sponsors for running the BoA Chicago Marathon. For more information on lupus and joining Lupus Charity Runners, contact the Lupus Foundation of America, Illinois Chapter at (312) 542-0002 or visit www.lupusil.org

GINA BAVONE. Gina is one dedicated individual when it comes to creating a world free of MS. She joined the movement 13 years ago when she first participated in Walk MS to support her mother who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in her 30s. She has walked every year since and has inspired others to follow in her footsteps by forming her own team, Camille’s Champs, two years after her individual debut. Today, their team, with Gina as team captain, grew to a total of 75 members and has generated close to $30,000 last year alone. More importantly, Gina states “We have raised awareness and educated others about the effects of MS. We are a community working together toward the common goal of helping those living with MS.”

Walking for the National MS Society, Greater Illinois Chapter is not a one-time event for her and her team. Camille’s Champs participate every year in Walk MS and are one of the leading teams in fundraising for the Greater Illinois Chapter. However, Gina does not stop there. She is a year-round volunteer for the Greater Illinois Chapter and participates in many other events that the chapter provides. Through the years and numerous events, Gina has met and formed relationships with many extraordinary people living with MS through her involvement. Gina and her team members will continue to volunteer and fundraise for the National MS Society until the world is free of MS.

GREG LEOS. Greg ran track in high school, but absolutely hated running long distances. In fact, he remembers describing people who ran marathons as “crazy.” Today, the 42-year old Chicago business executive runs for himself as a test of inner strength and for others as a sign of his dedication to helping others.

Last year, Greg participated in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon as part of a team that ran for Rainbows, a global non-profit charity that provides a healthy path toward healing to children grieving from a loss or life-altering crisis. Greg himself is a child of divorce and lost his mother to cancer at a relatively early age, and can relate to the inner turmoil that children suffer through the grieving process. “The thoughts of the kids Rainbows serves around the world motivated me every step of the way during the Marathon,” he says.

Greg raised $2000 for Rainbows that day. Coincidentally, the Chicago Marathon fell on the same date as his mother’s birthday. Greg took special pride in being able to run for her and for Rainbows at the same time. On June 21, Greg will run in the Rainbows Summer Solstice Sunset Run/Walk at Busse Woods in Schaumburg.

Greg has come a long way from “absolutely hating” running long distances. “Now I’ve not only run multiple marathons, but I’ve set a goal to run one on every continent,” he says. “When I cross that finish line, it’s easily one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced.” And yes, he now views himself as one of the people just “crazy” enough to run these races. For more information about the Rainbows 5k/10k event, contact Daryl Rubin, director of events for Rainbows at 847-952-1770 x29.

ALICIA FRITSCH. Alicia might have asthma but that doesn’t stop her for reaching for her goals. In 1994, a 21-year-old Alicia was diagnosed with asthma and couldn’t run a full mile without reaching for her inhaler. Today Alicia’s asthma is controlled.
In 2005, Alicia’s daughter Mia was born and just after her 1st birthday Mia was also diagnosed with asthma. Seeing her child not able to breathe pushed Alicia into action. She joined Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago’s (RHAMC) Lung Power Team to train for the 2008 Chicago Marathon and for the 2009 race.

“I hope to inspire my daughter and show her that asthma does not have to slow you down if you don’t let it,” said Alicia.

The Lung Power Team is the fundraising leg of Respiratory Health Association’s endurance sport program. The Team raises awareness and monies to further RHAMC’s mission to promote healthy lungs and fight lung disease throughout Illinois.

“I really admire the outreach programs the Respiratory Health Association provides to our community,” Alicia said. “They are educating parents, healthcare providers, and schools about the disease.” To learn more about the Lung Power Team and Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, visit www.lungchicago.org.

LAURA BAKOSH. Prior to 2008, Laura of Oswego, Ill., didn’t consider herself an endurance athlete. But when she saw a friend complete the Boston Marathon, Laura talked about running a marathon with a friend, Lisa Eloe, with whom she regularly jogged for fitness. The feat initially seemed impossible. “How on earth could we run a marathon?” Bakosh recalls thinking.
After playing around with the idea for months, the women finally made the commitment to run a marathon with a third friend, Lisa Pradel. The trio formed “Team MOM” and decided they would run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon with the training and support of the St. Jude Heroes charity athlete program, which raises money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and its fight against childhood cancer.

“St. Jude spoke to all of us. We are all moms with small children,” says Bakosh. Additionally, another friend’s son had recently battled rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare soft-tissue cancer. “He is a survivor largely because of the work of St. Jude,” she says. Dedicating their efforts to this young survivor and to their own children, the women trained arduously and completed the marathon successfully.

“When you’re doing something like this for the first time, it’s hard, but we couldn’t have been happier with the support we got from St. Jude,” Bakosh says. “After having this experience, I can’t imagine why anyone would run the Chicago Marathon without doing it for a charity.”
In addition to advancing St. Jude’s cause, Laura discovered her latent affinity for the sport and plans to participate more in the Heroes program in the future. “I’ve found my inner runner!” she says.

STEPHANIE SERRA.
Stephanie, 33, of Chicago joined The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training (TNT) to complete the Honolulu Marathon in December. For 20 years, TNT has been training people from first-timers to seasoned athletes to complete half or full marathons, triathlons, 100-mile century bike rides and hikes. Stephanie, a cancer survivor was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 20 years old. “I am lucky to be a survivor and to be able to do something in honor of individuals who are battling and have battled blood cancers.” Since remission, she has wanted to participate in TNT. “It was very emotional and powerful for me to be a part TNT,” she said.

“As a survivor, I was able to give something back, help raise funds, and contribute to stopping cancer.” For more info visit www.teamintraining.org/il or 312-651-7355.

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