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Faith, Hope And Charities

Running For Something Other Than Yourself Is The Greatest Gift Of Our Sport

 By John Bingham

 

In the fall of 1966, a very good friend of mine was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. Over the next couple of years, her family and friends watched helplessly as both the disease and its treatment took a toll on her body. The outcome was never a doubt. It wasn’t a matter of if she would lose her battle with Hodgkin’s it was simply a matter of when. And in the spring of 1970, the battle was over.

Thinking about my friend’s death nearly 40 years later still makes me sad. That’s why in 2000, when the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society asked me to be a national spokesperson for Team in Training, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. In a small way, perhaps I could help others avoid the same pain I had experienced.

Team in Training (also known as TNT) got its start in 1988 when a group of athletes from the New York area hired a coach to help them train for the New York City Marathon while they raised money for blood-cancer research. Their inspiration was a leukemia patient, Georgia Cleland, the daughter of the team’s organizer, Bruce Cleland. From this humble beginning, TNT has grown to a national program that’s helped at least 380,000 purple-shirted runners, triathletes, and cyclists cross the finish line while raising more than $900 million for blood cancer research and patient services. TNT hopes to reach the $1 billion mark by the end of this 20th anniversary celebration year.

Despite these feats, I’ve heard people say that they aren’t really runners, they’re dumbing down the sport, and they’re taking spots that should go to “legitimate” competitors. But I’ve never heard those complaints from the parent of a child who is alive today because of a new treatment paid for with funds raided by a charity.

I’ve run the flora London Marathon seven times and can tell you that if you’re not a charity running in that race, you are in the minority. In London, nearly everyone is running for someone else. Most often I isn’t for some large charity but for the child in their neighborhood who requires dialysis, or the son of a friend who needs surgery. They run fro the planet. They run for the rhinos. They run for those who chant. And their joy is in knowing that their efforts will be rewarded in measures beyond medals or PR’s.

So many of us have changed our own lives through running that it makes sense we would want to change the lives of others in the same way. We can take the drive, ambition, and dedication we used to transform ourselves from couch potatoes to athletes and channel that into making a difference for someone else.

When that happens, we’ll truly understand the words of the renowned anthropologist Margret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

To charity runners past, present, and future: Waddle on!