Today, over 20 thousand people will run along 26.2 miles of eastern Massachusetts streets, starting on the wood-lined pavement of route 135, winding along route 16, and finally battling up the Newton hills that dot route 30 for the 2012 Boston Marathon.
Among those 20 thousand runners pushing through what is considered one of the most difficult marathon courses will be 12 individuals representing Team Joslin, Joslin Diabetes Center’s athletically-driven fundraising effort. Each runner has promised, through the John Hancock Non-Profit Program, to raise five thousand dollars to benefit the High Hopes Fund, which supports Joslin’s diabetes research.
The team is led by Flora Allen-Hopson, mother of the Boston Celtic’s Ray Allen. Allen’s son Walker was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2008, and this will be Allen-Hopson’s third year running the marathon with Joslin in her grandson’s name.
Everyone on the team has a tie to diabetes in one way or another, whether they are running for themselves, a family member, or a Joslin patient with whom they have teamed up.
Stephanie Simmons and Lesley Fisher, two team members, met five years ago while working at a law firm. Stephanie was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 9. She never used her diabetes as an excuse to not be active, and she attributes her success as an athlete through high school and college to getting on the pump when she was 13 years old.
Lesley’s mother also had type 1. She, like Stephanie, wasn’t one to complain. “I definitely knew growing up that [my mother] was dealing with something,” said Lesley. “But it wasn’t until later in her life when all the complications started that we talked about it and about what happens and how it affects your body.”
Lesley and Stephanie weren’t aware of their diabetes connection until Stephanie got sick once during law school and shared her diagnosis with her friend. The understanding they had of what the other was going through strengthened their friendship.
Lesley started long-distance running about five years ago, right around the time she first met Stephanie. A few years later, Stephanie joined in, adjusting her diabetes management routine and visiting Joslin regularly for meetings with dietitians and exercise physiologists who made sure she was maintaining her best self-care.
Last May, while the two were training for the Vermont City Marathon, Lesley’s mother started getting sicker. And in July, she passed away at age 61.
So this year, Lesley and Stephanie decided to run for Team Joslin to raise money for diabetes research.
“When Lesley’s mom passed away, it shook every cell in my body,” said Stephanie. “And I know it affected my family and my friends with the reality of the situation. [Lesley] and I choosing to do what we could to help other people along the way is a decision that means something to both of us.”
“For me, [running] is just kind of a stress reliever. It’s an escape for me,” said Lesley. “It’s really helped me through a lot of tough times. It’s my time to think and to get some fresh air and unwind. Even though it’s intense, it’s really relaxing for me.”
And for Stephanie, the marathon has opened up a new network of people with diabetes. Meeting parents who are running for their children with diabetes made her remember that “even though I have good control of my disease, it’s very real and we can’t stop pushing for a cure,” she said. “When you hear stories about a child who’s 4, that’s really who it’s for at this point. I mean, children shouldn’t have to have this anymore.”
They are both incredibly supportive of one another, and look forward to helping each other through the race today, which is sure to be trying for both of them, physically and emotionally.
“I’m just really happy to be doing it, and happy to be doing it for my mom and with Stephanie,” said Lesley. “I think it’s just great to be able to represent a wonderful organization that’s been such a huge part of both of our lives. It’s nice to be able to give back.”
Team Joslin is still taking donations! Visit the fundraising page here