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A Personal Account of the Leukemia Society's Team in Training Program Experience - A Runner and His Honored Patient
by Tim Hamburger

"For more than a century, the Boston Marathon has been a great race. It remains one of only two U.S. Marathons where runners must qualify in order to participate. The other race being the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. No marathon in the world, including the Olympics, has the tradition, charm and character of Boston. The Boston Marathon is special because its history is so tangible. Because the original course and many great runners are still a part of the race, you can see and live a century of running. Each race adds to the legacy and enhances the allure of this wonderful event."
    Uta Pippig
    (Olympic Marathoner &
    3 time Boston Marathon Winner)

I arrived in Boston on Friday, April 16th. The Boston Marathon was just three days away and I was about to live out a dream that began nearly 17 years ago. I can still recall reading about the great Boston duel between Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley in Runner's World Magazine back in 1982. The running bug caught hold of me in high school during the summer of 1981 and I went on to have a pretty successful running career setting records in the mile, 2 mile and 5000 meters (cross-country). I was even fortunate enough to have run for the Shoe Company ASICS during the early 90's. Then, after many years of competitive running, the joy of running just disappeared.

It wasn't until late 1997 that I realized one running goal I had yet to achieve to compete with the best runners in the world in the Boston Marathon. Therefore, I decided to start training for a marathon in order to qualify for the 1999 Boston Marathon. A few weeks after I started training, I received a brochure in the mail from the Leukemia Society of America. It was an invitation to attend an informational session about their Team in Training program. I went to the meeting not really knowing what to expect. They discussed how Team in Training works. Basically, you run a marathon in honor of a local leukemia patient and raise money for leukemia research and patient aid. I still wasn't completely sold on the program. Then, a little boy got up in front of this room full of adults and talked about what it meant to him to have complete strangers run hundreds of miles to prepare for a marathon in order to help kids like him. Not once did he ask for our help but you could hear the appreciation in his voice and see it in his eyes.

The little boy who spoke at that informational meeting was Matt Lewis. Matt was assigned as my patient hero for the San Diego "Rock n' Roll" Marathon. I had no idea at the time just how much of an impact this young boy would have on my life. We went on to develop quite a friendship. I taught him a few things about running and he gave me an education in courage, strength, and compassion. Matt showed me that running could be fun again and he supplied all the inspiration I would ever need to prepare for the San Diego Marathon. I completed the marathon in 3 hours and 6 minutes. I had qualified for the 1999 Boston Marathon. After I returned from San Diego, my celebration was short lived. Matt had suffered a relapse. After nearly four years in remission, the leukemia was back. Here I had trained my body to run 26.2 miles and Matt was suddenly forced to go back to the starting line. It didn't seem fair to me but Matt just took it all in stride. I knew then that there was only one thing to do. I had to run the Boston Marathon for Matt as much as myself.

My 33rd birthday fell on the same day as the 1999 Boston Marathon. Here I was in Hopkinton, just a few minutes before noon, standing at the starting line with 12,000 of the world's best marathoners. Bang, the starter's gun fired and we were off and running in the 103rd Boston Marathon. The crowd support was incredible. The streets were lined with more than 1.5 million spectators. There wasn't an open spot along either side of the road for the entire 26.2 miles. I knew that Matt and his family would be with my family at the 17-mile mark. As I approached that point in the race, I didn't think I would ever find them in the crowd. Suddenly, up ahead, a boy ran out onto the course and was heading right toward me. I couldn't believe it the little boy was Matt! He was the first person to see me coming up the road and he wanted to let me know that I had his support. He extended his hand for a high-five and then ran with me for about 50 yards. At that moment, I understood the true meaning of the Boston Marathon. This wasn't just a race. This was a celebration. It was a celebration of life and a celebration of hope the hope that we will find a cure for leukemia so that Matt and the other children I have met will be able to live long and prosperous lives. The smile on Matt's face as he ran with me gave me all the strength I needed. I completed the Boston Marathon in 2 hours and 52 minutes. My finishing time put me in the top 3 1/2% overall, but the best part of the Boston Marathon was running this race for Matt and raising $8600 for the Leukemia Society of America. I couldn't have asked for a better birthday gift. Over the past year, I have raised nearly $16,000 for leukemia research and patient aid. My experience with Team in Training and the relationship I have developed with the Lewis family will keep me involved with this program until we are able to find a cure and put an end to this dreaded disease. I would like to thank everyone who sponsored me in this effort. With your help, I am certain we will find a cure!

Editor's Note: Thank you Tim for sharing your heartwarming experience with us.

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