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Running (or walking or biking) for a good cause

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society fundraising finds fans at Community Hospital

For Linda Roston, finishing a half-marathon walk in San Francisco - and doing it without getting winded by the hills - was more than a personal affirmation. It was also a win for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Roston, a registered nurse in the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Community Hospital, participated in the race last fall as part of the Team In Training program of the cancer organization. The program offers training, guidance, and tips, along with lodging and travel, for participants in endurance events. In return, the participants raise money for the society. Roston surprised herself, not only by how well she performed in her race after the training but also by her ability to solicit sponsors.

For Roston, the prospect of raising money was probably more worrisome than the race itself. While she had done some distance walking in the past, she had never tried to raise money for a cause. And the amount she needed to raise under the program's guidelines was a daunting $2,500.

"It was kind of scary having to raise that much," Roston says. "But it turned out it wasn't that bad. You just contact everyone you know, and sometimes other people overhear you and want to contribute, too."

By the time she crossed the finish line, she had walked 13.1 miles and raised $2,520.

The program Roston tapped into has become a particularly effective fundraising tool for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Started in New York in 1988 by a man whose daughter had leukemia, the first Team In Training effort drew 32 participants who ran in the New York City Marathon and raised a surprising $320,000. Repeated the next year, it attracted 75 people. Then it began spreading to other races and locations around the country.

"Team In Training just kept growing and growing," says Nicole Winn, Northern California public relations manager for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

The program is now offered through each of the organization's 68 chapters. To date, 340,000 people have participated and raised more than $800 million. The money goes toward finding cures for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease, and myeloma, as well as toward improving the lives of patients and their families.

Team In Training contributes a minimum of 75 percent of the money raised to research and patient services. The rest pays the cost of the training program and the basic expenses of the participants, including travel to the event, lodging, and food. The minimum fundraising amount to participate in a race in Hawaii could be as high as $4,700, but there are plenty of venues closer to home with lower fundraising requirements. In Northern California alone, there are about 20 events annually that are part of the Team In Training program.

One of the major attractions to participants is the training part of the program, which has been honed and perfected over the past 20 years. Each participant joins a team with from 20 to 200 others who train together. They meet for fitness talks and professional coaching sessions and go through training exercises. A week before the event, participants get a purple Team In Training jersey to wear on race day.

“Team In Training trains people of all physical levels, from a couch potato to a fit athlete,” Winn says. “We train them to complete an event, not necessarily for a record-breaking time but for a personal best.”

Dr. Grant Swanson, medical director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Community Hospital, is a big fan of the program and a regular speaker at Team In Training events. An endurance sport enthusiast himself (he races in ultra-marathons, which can go as far as 100 miles), Swanson talks about the latest advances in cancer treatment, as well as the importance of a program like Team In Training as a morale booster for patients and families. He also sees endurance sports as a way of giving people without cancer a window on the physical strains that the human body undergoes when under stress from the disease and the treatment.

“When you are training for, or competing in, a long-distance event, you can learn things from that training that can give you some sort of insight into the cancer experience,” Swanson says.

Swanson and Joy Smith, a registered nurse and oncology educator in Community Hospital’s cancer center, were awarded congressional recognition certificates by Rep. Sam Farr last year for their volunteer work with the society.

“I just really like how they raise funds,” Smith says. “They ask people to do something healthy, and they do it in honor of someone who is ill.”

Each team has an honored cancer patient, and individuals can also select someone as a personal honoree.

Last year, Roston signed up to walk the half-marathon distance of the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco on October 21. She went to her kickoff session in June, then over the next five months went to Team In Training workshops and workouts, not only getting fit but also learning about nutrition, hydration, clothing, and strategies to avoid injury. There were workshops on fundraising as well fundraising events to benefit the entire team, including a silent auction, a car wash, and a rummage sale.

“The training really helped,” Roston says. “I lost a couple of dress sizes and pounds. I feel better and I walk better.”

On the day of the event in San Francisco, Roston donned her purple jersey and made her way through the city, surprised to find Team In Training supporters along the route cheering her on “I never experienced such support and cheering from strangers,” Roston says. “They were chanting, ‘Go Linda!’”

There was also an unexpected bonus at the end.

“Crossing the finish line was cool,” Roston says. “And then there was this gorgeous-handsome young man waiting to hand me my Nike pendant in a signature Tiffany box.”

Community Hospital and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society hold a monthly education and support group for people with a blood-related cancer and their family members. For more information, please call 625-4753.

More information about the Team In Training program is available online at www.teamintraining.org  or by calling (408) 271-2873.