Saturday, December 14, 2013

Someday is Today

"When you're about to quit, remember why you started"

Back in 1995, I was training runners for old Vulcan Marathon here in Birmingham. Even though I had been directing the training clinic for 11 years at that point and had been long distance running for 16 years, I was having a little bit of a running burnout. Oh, I still enjoyed running, but the newness, the passion, the goals, they were all starting to fade. I ran the Boston Marathon for the first time that year, and after that, it was almost like "Well, what could top that?". I had sworn that I would never run Boston again because it had been everything I had hoped it would be and it would NEVER be as good, so I didn't want to tarnish the memory. I did, in fact, go back 4 more times over the years, but you know what? Even though it was an incredible experience each time, I was right, it was never as good as that first time.

OK, back to 1995...well, early 1995...I was doing a long solo run in Homewood, preparing for Boston, when I ran into a group of about 6-7 runners. Seeing that we almost were running in a parallel universe, I asked if I could join them, figuring the company would take some of the remaining 10 miles of sluggishness out of my legs. I asked what they were training for and they said the Napa Valley Marathon. That seemed like a long way for such a large group from Alabama to be going, but it turns out they were running with a fund-raising group called Team-in-Training. I knew absolutely nothing about the group, so they explained that TNT was a part of the Leukemia Society of America (later to become the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of America) and they in return for raising monies mostly for research, would receive training, gear, and get a trip to Napa Valley.  During our run, they found out I was a Physical Therapist and asked if I would come to one of their meetings and talk about...well, whatever I could talk about! I wound up doing about 4 talks before they headed out to California and I promptly more or less forgot about TNT.

A few months later, a friend of mine, Julie Green, asked if she could stop by my work to talk to me. She told me that she was now working with the Leukemia Society and was directing the Team-in-Training program. Turned out the current coach was quitting and some of the running group had mentioned me as a replacement. As I was already doing the Vulcan group and pretty active with the Birmingham Track Club, I really wasn't that interested, but Julie is very persistent (hard-headed) and finally swayed me into taking up the reins. Julie, who was not a runner at the time, still tells the story that the only reason she ran her 1st marathon was because I I told her I didn't think she could!  She was a businesswoman, wore high heels, didn't have time to train. What would you say?  I was only trying to keep her from getting hurt, but she got fired up seeing all these runners and went from Zero to Marathon in five months! She even raised the money as a participant.

So, I got my passion back, and for the next 15 years, until 2010, I was the Run Coach for B'ham's TNT program and had excellent help from friends of mine along the way, Ken Harkless, Charles Thompson, and Prince Whatley. To this day, Ken and Prince are still actively involved in TNT coaching. From the first day, we would preach the word that every dollar raised would make a difference. Slowly, we saw survival rates improve and would pound into our trainees that this is good, but MUCH more is needed. Each event brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars to be funneled towards research. We ran and we prayed for "a Cure" of this horrible disease.

Then came the Big Breakthrough...the development of Gleevac in 2001. The drug Gleevec is an example of how funds raised through Team in Training are helping patients. Gleevec is a molecularly targeted treatment for chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) – a cancer that, before Gleevec, had at least an 85% death rate. Gleevec is a drug that uses cancer cells to attack other cancer cells found in a body while not destroying healthy cells. The 5-year survival rate dramatically improved from from 15% to almost 95% today! The researchers for Gleevac were almost exclusively funded through TNT. We now felt a direct connection between our efforts and the results of those efforts.

In 2010, I reluctantly turned the coaching reins over to Ken and Prince. TNT will always have a very special place in my heart, but like other passions that pass with time, I lost direct connection with the program, the runners, the mission. That is until this week...maybe you caught it on the news....when I received an email from the LLS:

Dear Al,
Just three and a half years after a clinical trial demonstrating the first successful and sustained use of genetically engineered T cells to fight leukemia, LLS-funded researcher Carl H. June, M.D., and his team at University of Pennsylvania and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia presented more promising results this week at The American Society of Hematology (ASH) conference in New Orleans. 

The latest results involved both adults and children with advanced leukemias. For these patients, this therapy was the last option available, as all previous therapies had failed. Among the first 59 patients who received this experimental cellular therapy, 89% of patients were cancer free after treatment.

"These findings show real promise for critically ill patients, who have run out of options. And they clearly demonstrate the ability of LLS-funded researchers to use innovative bioengineering methods to activate the immune system to kill cancer cells." said Lee Greenberger, Ph.D., chief scientific officer of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. 

Because of support from people like you, LLS has been able to invest $15 million in Dr. June's work, with an additional $6 million committed through 2017. Your donations are having a real impact for blood cancer patients today. 

Thank you,
John E. Walter
President & CEO

Do you realize how HUGE this news is? Using running as a vehicle, Leukemia now is at the Tipping Point of a cure. Without TNT, research would never have gotten the funding through Government channels alone, and discoveries like these could still be decades away. TNT has generated $1.4 BILLION (that's Billion with a "B") for research since it began in 1988.  I always said our goal should be to put TNT out of commission. I am so proud to have been a part of TNT, as every single participant should be. You did this! We did this! Someday TNT won't be needed anymore. Someday Leukemia will be cured. The new LLS slogan...Someday is Today!

I'll see you all on the roads - AL

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"


Yo Momma Runs said...

Doing my first race for charity with this year's Mercedes (running for Mitchell's Place), and this is just what I needed to read to kick my butt into fundraising gear! Also, I have the same feeling about Boston. Going in 2014, and I figure that that's it. It can't ever be as great again.:) Plus after that I have to focus on running really slowly if I want to do a 100 miler eventually.

Al D. said...

Thanks Lisa - Running for a charity is a wonderful way to expend your energy. Even if you run like crap, you're still doing something good. I'm so excited about you doing Boston...too bad you have to do it with 35,999 others. It'll be crowded, but so exciting. Now, this 100 mile're on your own there. See you soon.