Boston Marathon champion-turned-coach Jack Fultz didn’t entirely comprehend what he was getting involved with back in 1989.
Fultz, who studied Business Finance at Georgetown University, was also a successful collegiate track athlete for the Hoyas. Turning to the marathon once he completed his NCAA eligibility, Fultz ran a blistering 2:11:17 (4th at Boston in 1978), two years after winning the 1976 Boston Marathon in arduous 100-degree conditions, affectionately nicknamed the “Run for the Hoses.” His marathoning career began during his four-year Coast Guard stint prior to Georgetown.
Years later, as Fultz’s running career began to wane, he started coaching. While he enjoyed mentoring both high school and adult marathon runners, it wasn’t until Fultz agreed to coach his friend, Mike Silverstein, a freshman at Harvard University, for the 1989 Boston Marathon, that he had a notion of where this may all lead. He had no idea just how successful this marathon fundraising enterprise would become.
Silverstein’s close friend, Seth Feldman, then a freshman at Dartmouth College, had recently succumbed to the brain cancer that he battled at Dana-Farber’s Jimmy Fund Clinic.
“Mike had promised Seth that he would continue his mission to raise money and awareness for Dana-Farber and its Jimmy Fund,” Fultz says. “He met Greg Gross, an experienced marathoner, at Dana-Farber’s Jimmy Fund office and he suggested that Mike run the 1989 Boston Marathon with him. It was something Mike and Seth had planned to do and felt like an appropriate way to memorialize Seth.”
At that time Fultz was coaching him, he was also working as the Elite Athlete Liaison for the B.A.A., where he alerted local TV stations of Mike’s story. Although charity running is a significant component of most running races now, it was a concept in its infancy back then.
“Mike was already getting media attention, including a feature story in The Boston Globe,” Fultz recalls. “His fundraising campaign was tremendously successful, raising nearly $35,000, at a time when using athletics as a fundraising vehicle was in its infancy.”
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Dana-Farber began its marathon alliance with the Boston Athletic Association the following year when a series of interests and passions aligned. At the same time, two of Dr. Sidney Farber’s grandsons, Bill and Pete Santis, both runners, had proposed raising funds for the Institute their grandfather had started. The Boston Marathon seemed like a natural fit.
Simultaneously, Dana-Farber was expanding its research-funding program. In 1987, Dana-Farber trustees Wayne and Delores Barr Weaver had established the Claudia Adams Barr Program in Innovative Basic Cancer Research at the Institute in memory of Delores’s mother. The Weavers knew Gross from their Dana-Farber involvement and took interest in his running Boston and Gross and Silverstein’s fundraising efforts. Seeing potential, they collaborated with Gross via his position at The Jimmy Fund to raise more funds for the Barr Program.
“It was the ‘perfect storm’ of sorts—a harmonic convergence,” quips Fultz.
Gross asked Fultz if he would stay involved as the coach for the program and he agreed wholeheartedly. Gross and the Santis brothers recruited 16 other runners, most of whom had never run a marathon, to run Boston in 1990. Fultz developed the team’s training program and the Weavers challenged the runners with a $50,000 dollar-for-dollar matching grant.
“These 19 runners raised $51,000, making the total donation to The Barr Program at Dana-Farber $101,000 and The Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge was born,” says Fultz.
A hallmark of the DFMC has always been that 100 percent of the funds raised would directly support the scientists who are selected as Barr Investigators. DFMC’s fundraising and Fultz’s coaching of these charity marathoners has reaped significant results. Over 25 years, more than $69 million has been raised for innovative basic cancer research at Dana-Farber. Since the Barr Program’s inception, significant outcomes of Barr-funded research have led to dramatically improved survival rates and quality of life for cancer patients.
“It is hard to believe this is my 27th year working with Dana-Farber,” Fultz says proudly. “To think this started when Mike phoned me for some simple advice on training for Boston.”
However, without the Internet, it was much more difficult for Fultz and his runners.
“Email and social media didn’t exist so there was plenty of ‘hands-on’ work by the small DFMC staff and runners. Training runs finished at the famed Eliot Lounge, and we’d down a few post-run beers while stuffing envelopes and licking stamps,” says Fultz with a laugh.
For Fultz, the program has truly been a vocation.
“My involvement with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and its DFMC team has given a level of meaning to my running career that I could never have imagined when I was competing. I strongly believe that we’ll eventually reach that ultimate finish line, ‘A World Without Cancer’.”
The 2015 DFMC team’s goal is to raise $5.2 million to fund even more high-potential research. They are currently well ahead of schedule and on record pace.
“There really were no charity races back then and only a few non-profit organizations were raising money through athletic events. This was pioneer territory,” Fultz says. “Where that has led is truly amazing.”