How Running has helped me Cope: A Guest Post

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to take a moment to share a story with you that is truly humbling. This post is written by my friend Sandy, and she is one the most inspirational and giving people. I Asked her to write this post because I think she is one of the most amazing people on the planet. She tried to tell me she couldn’t write a post because she isn’t a “real runner” (you know I quickly shot that down!) I told her there is NO SUCH THING as a real runner and that if you RUN, than you are a RUNNER!!!

She has been through hell and back and has used running as a coping mechanism. Sandy is a wife, mom, a runner, and a giver. She donates her time, her energy, and her love to helping others. I don’t want to take anything away from her powerful story, so read on.

Sandy’s Story
When Nicole first asked if I would share a post in her blog, I thought what could I possibly share about my running. See, I’m not what I refer to as a ‘real’ runner, I am just someone who learned that running is a good outlet. My story isn’t all about running, but I do have a story and any opportunity given, I love to share that story, which also includes my one marathon!
I’m a mom of 3 boys, Christopher, Matthew and Zachary. Zachary was just 10 days old when Matthew (aka Matty) was diagnosed with Hepatoblastoma (liver cancer). Matty was 4 years old at the time. In the 3 years that he battled, he not only had chemo and radiation treatments, but a liver transplant, 2 brain surgeries, 3 lung resections and his left arm amputated 5 months before he passed away. Matty lost his courageous battle on March 25, 2007. I wish my story had a happy ending, unfortunately, it does not.

But, because of Matty’s story, I was inspired by the Dana Farber Marathon Challenge team and just 3 weeks after Matty passed, I decided that I would run the 2008 Boston Marathon with them. I was active and in good shape, but no way close to being ‘marathon material’! I had a year to train, how hard could it be, right?! Well, I was 40 years old, I should’ve taken that into consideration. In my commitment to run with DFMC, fundraising was included, something else I didn’t take into consideration.

Life happened along the way and my husband was deployed to Iraq just 6 months after Matty passed. I now had to somehow get my butt out for training runs with 2 young boys at home, fundraise and hold down the fort, so much I never considered. I am thankful for my parents and other family members for helping us out, especially throughout the entire training season. And, of course, wouldn’t you know that it was a winter just like last year’s winter, with a storm every week. I had to shovel then hit the pavement. I give SO much credit to single parents. SO much credit!!

But, let’s back up a bit, as those were just life challenges along the way. I got serious and started my training for Boston about 10 months before the marathon. I remember literally starting with 1 mile. I ran one whole mile without stopping. I was so happy. Two days later I tried two miles. Each week, I tried to gain another mile. Some weeks I was successful, some weeks not. My training was going pretty well and I ran my first ½ marathon (Baystate) that October. I finished at 1:58, which I was thrilled with. I ran some 5k’s and 5 mile races over the next few months. On Superbowl Sunday of 2008, I actually placed first in my age group for a 5k, finishing at 22:23 (7:14 pace)! There is nothing like a runner’s high, and more so if you place! This gave me so much hope that I was ready for the marathon. Hope is a really great thing to hold on to…not just with running but with anything. Hope got me to mile 16 (of my 18 mile training run) but I was quickly brought down with an injury at mile 16. My knee locked up. I couldn’t even walk, never mind run. I had to get a ride back to the gym. I was devastated, but still had hope that this injury would be short lived.

After a lot of pain and a doctors visit, it turned out that the injury was due to lack of stretching. You have to know that I HATE stretching (and I hate using the word hate)! I really thought stretching was pointless. Turns out, it is not. I wasn’t able to hit the pavement again until marathon day. I never ran more than 16 miles before marathon day, something I don’t suggest because I had a lot of fear that I wouldn’t finish the marathon. But, I still had hope.

I ran that day, that awesome most perfect marathon weather day, in memory of my son, my hero. I had “Matty’s Mom” on the front of my Dana Farber singlet and Matty’s picture on my back. I heard “Go Matty’s Mom” the entire 26.2. I stopped to hug Matty’s nurses, some friends and Team Matty supporters along the way. I saw a little bald girl sitting on the sidewalk and she winked at me. I accepted a popscicle offer from a little boy who had the biggest smile! (side bar – popscicles are the best treats along a marathon course!) Every mile, I felt Matty with me and I felt he placed these children strategically along the route. I got to mile 25, the Jimmy Fund cheering section and I got the biggest hug from a little girl, who was battling the same cancer Matty had. That hug carried me to the finish. I can honestly say that I smiled from start to finish, something I wish every marathoner could do. I crossed the finish line at 5:00 even. It was never about the time, it was about the accomplishment. I finished injury free and I raised $12,000 for Dana Faber in doing so. It was one of my most memorable days and I love to share my one and only marathon story.

I never need to run another marathon, as nothing will ever top that day. But, one thing I’ll always continue to do, is share Matty’s story.

I continued running ½ marathons and 5k’s up until this past year. Like many runners, I have a love/hate relationship with running. I hate that I ‘have’ to run and by that, I mean I have to because it’s the only way I’ll continue to stay in shape. But, I love how it makes me feel after a good run. I have learned that running is such a good outlet in handling my grief. It’s been a great way to clear my head, relieve some stress and frustration and if I want to have a good cry, running is a great way to have at it!

Matty was treated at Boston Children’s Hospital and Dana Farber’s Jimmy Fund Clinic. I continue to stay involved with volunteering for both organizations, including the Dana Farber Marathon Challenge team training runs. I work the water stops from December to April, for each year’s marathon. In my volunteering at training runs, I not only get to talk about my own marathon experience, but I get to share Matty’s story, which is so much more important! It’s such a great way for me to give back to two places filled with staff that tried their hardest to give Matty the best quality of life possible.

I have so much more to share about Matty but this is Nicole’s blog and it focuses on running and that’s where we’ll leave it.
But, if you are interested in hearing more about Matty, please consider stopping by Frobie’s Café, 101 Broadway Road, Dracut, MA, on Saturday, November 29th, 9-3pm, where I’ll be hosting a Children’s Hospital Blood Drive. I host one every 8 weeks. Just another way to get Matty’s story out there, while giving back.

Thank you, Nicole, for allowing me to share a little about my running story and how it came about. I’m not a ‘real’ runner, I never will be but that’s never discouraged me from hearing such great running stories and I always love being a supportive spectator! I love your blog. Keep the posts coming! xoxo

Please consider stopping by Frobie’s Cafe in Dracut, MA this weekend and donating blood for a great cause!

Feel free to leave Sandy a comment about how her story moved you❤️


23 thoughts on “How Running has helped me Cope: A Guest Post

  1. Nicole & Sandy, thank you for sharing this post. Running helps in so many ways. It helps you have a bit of focus in dark times and it helps you feel like you have control when you can raise money to help others. I started my blog and my foray back into distance running while in the depths and despair of a children’s hospital experience myself (though I have not been ready to post about it in my blog). I am very sorry to hear about your excruciating loss. Your story has inspired me to renew my original goal to run for Ronald McDonald House Charities which have helped us so much. Your children have strong and wonderful parents. Good luck with your running and continued fundraising.

    • There’s so much more to write about Matty and the amazing little boy that he was….but Nicole would’ve had to turn her blog over! LOL

  2. Thank you for sharing!! You had me in tears. I believe your story makes more of a ‘real’ runner than anything else because you have a huge runners heart. I’m currently training to try and qualify to run Boston… So if I didn’t already have important reasons to, I have an even more inspirational reason too. God bless!

    • I always say that if I make one more person aware of Matty and his story, today, who didn’t know yesterday…..then I did my job for that day! Thank you for reassuring me on that! 🙂

    • I always say that if one more person learns of Matty’s story, who didn’t know about him yesterday, than I did my job for that day! Thank you for reassuring me on that! 🙂

  3. So incredible. I know my mom got into half marathons to support me and cures for Crohns, and there is just nothing like a mother’s love. This is beyond heartbreaking, but there is so much love in it, that it gives one hope. Thank you so much for sharing, Sandy.

    • I put my heart and soul into making sure that Matty will never be forgotten…..and if I can make a different in helping to imagine a world without cancer, even better! 🙂

    • The best way I can honor my son’s memory is to continue to share him and his story with the world. Thank you for taking the time to read this! 🙂

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