Sussex runners support cancer research

Local members of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training celebrated completed preparations for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half-Marathon with a kickoff party on Aug. 26.
Coastal Point • SAM HARVEY: Members of the local Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training.Coastal Point • SAM HARVEY:
Members of the local Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training.

The race was less than 10 days away (in Virginia Beach, Sept. 4), but team members had been training since the beginning of the year. According to coaches Paul and Khristel Grandell, they planned to get up early the next morning for one final group run (eight miles), and then rest up for the main event.

All 13.1 miles of it. But as Paul pointed out, there were no prerequisites for Team in Training — they could take non-runners off the couch and, by the time they’d completed the training, they’d make out just fine.

They just started slow, at a couple miles, then up to three, then four, then back down, then back up, Grandell said — like preparing to climb Everest.

“If you can get to the point that you’re running five miles comfortably, you can do three times that distance in an event,” he pointed out.

Local runner Mary Harmon (Dagsboro) said she started out running after dark, because she didn’t want people to see her huffing and puffing. And it definitely took some dedication — she remembered her first run with Khristel, back in January, in 14-degree weather.

In addition, every runner makes a commitment at the outset to raise some certain amount of money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, which varies depending on the venue. For the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half-Marathon, they each met $5,000 goals. Sounds like a lot, but according to the Web site, one fellow from New Jersey managed to raise more than $300,000 in just three years.

And, as Team in Training Mentor Kimberly Chappell pointed out, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society managed with a very low overhead. Approximately 76 percent of contributions went back to cancer support (primarily patient services and research).

This will be Harmon’s second event. A teacher at Selbyville Middle School, she said she often crossed paths with kids living through cancer treatments — and one of this year’s “Patient Heroes” struck a chord with her as well.

“I knew I was going to commit to doing this, but when I opened up the literature and saw Bridget (16-year-old Bridget Struckman) — she could have been my daughter,” Harmon said.

“If this doesn’t affect your life, nothing will,” Harmon said. “This has really become part of our lives, for all of us — both kids are volunteering this year, my daughter will run with me, for field hockey, my husband (J.T.) bikes with me while I run.”

He’s even good-natured when she sends him to the store, with the directive that he return with green apple, and only green apple, goo (sports gel), she said. He smirked in at least partial agreement.

Far from disrupting their lives, her son, James, said he fully supported what Harmon was doing. “It’s not hard to deal with,” he said. “It’s her goal, and she’s doing what she wants — and loves. It gives you a great feeling.”

Harmon noted how amazing it was to see wheelchair runners at the events, the people who came up to hug runners just because of what they were doing, the whole route loaded with people, waving signs and cheering.

“A funny thing happens, around mile eight,” she said. “You’ve spent the last six months training, and now you’re two-thirds of the way there — you start to think, ‘I’m not sure I want this to end.’”

Another of the local runners noted her affinity for this year’s other Patient Hero, John Merkel. “He had a bone marrow transplant, and as soon as he came out of the hospital, he started training for a Century Ride (100-mile bike ride),” Anita Lawson (Rehoboth Beach) pointed out.

Lawson, age 55, is a lymphoma survivor herself. She was diagnosed in Fall 2003, and went into remission approximately one year later. She thanked the folks at Beebe’s Tunnell Cancer Center — “I can’t say enough good things about them,” Lawson said. However, she also credited new medicines for her speedy return to a normal life.

“A lot of the chemotherapies are very hard to take,” Lawson noted. “Your hair falls out, you’re throwing up — you just feel bad. But I was lucky enough to be treated with a relatively new drug, and there were very few side effects.”

Without funding for research, doctors probably would see far less development in new treatments and therapies, Lawson pointed out.

“I want to pass this on to all the other people who come along after me,” she said. “Believe me, the first day you hear the word ‘cancer,’ it changes your life — you enter another country. And Team in Training has been a wonderful opportunity to give back.”

She transitioned straight from treatment into training, and ran in the Disney Half Marathon in January. “I had a lot of people praying for me, and it made a huge difference, I know,” Lawson said.

Would she have ever done anything like this if she’d never been diagnosed with cancer?

“Probably not, because I never would have gone to this extent,” she said, although she said she’d done a three-mile CROP Walk (funds combat hunger), and newly in remission, participated in a Light the Night walk (for cancer survivors, but also a fundraiser).

Actually, that’s where it all started for Lawson — she’d been looking up information about the Light the Night event when she came across Team in Training.

For the other events, she’d trained by herself, or with her husband. And that was fine, but seeing the camaraderie that developed among the Team in Training members, she said she was glad to be involved with a group. “These are the best people in the world,” she said. “The coaches are terrific, the way we all support each other. I’m so proud of these people.”

For more information, visit either the Team in Training ( or the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Web site, (