Adam’s Marathon Journey Keeps His Friend’s Memory Alive

by Amanda Sabino

Adam Giglia and his friend Tim McCarren had just finished a half marathon in Adam’s hometown of Rochester, New York. They took a moment to look back on an inconceivable 13.1 miles.

“Can you imagine,” they said between breaths, “doing a full marathon?” The two laughed.

Adam never considered himself much of a runner, though sports have always been in his blood. By age three – much like the rest of western New York – he was in skates and playing hockey.

When the Miller family moved-in across the street during Adam’s sixth grade year, he and new neighbor Erik Miller bonded over sports. Adam and Erik were only a year apart in school, and became fast friends.

Living across the street from each other meant getting together often, which was also the case for their families.

Runner poses after finishing run

Adam pauses for a post-run photo.

Adam’s father Lew and Erik’s father Jack would often take the boys golfing. It was competitive, but always fun. Jack would sometimes talk about his glory days running while growing up in Chicago – even showing his many photos from distance races over the years.

“He was passionate about it,” Adam says.

A couple months after running the half marathon with Tim, Adam stood alongside Jack. After five years battling lung cancer, Jack entered hospice care.

Adam knew what he had to do, but the steps to get there seemed daunting. Everything he read said how challenging marathons could be. Was it possible?

His mind was set. He promised to run the 2019 Chicago Marathon in Jack’s honor.

That commitment was the ultimate currency of their friendship to Jack. Though he ran the Boston Marathon, he had never done so in his native Chicago. Adam was hopeful Jack would have the chance.

“You’re going to win next year,” he said.

In September, Jack lost his life to lung cancer. Now, Adam runs not only for him, but for his grieving friend Erik and lung cancer survivors everywhere.

“I’m committed to do whatever it takes to cross that finish line.”

Training has lived up to its reputation. He describes it as the hardest thing he’s ever done in his life. He wants to finish in less than four hours, and after months of sacrifice he’s getting close to his goal.

His friends and family will be at the marathon to support him. Tim, who has played chief motivator during training, will once again run alongside Adam. But they’ll be missing Jack.

Runners pose after running half marathon

Tim, his wife Marissa and Adam after the half marathon in Rochester.

Adam imagines Jack would want to celebrate by buying a round of beers.

“Were this 20 years ago,” he says, “he’d be waiting for me at the finish and saying, ’what took you so long?’”

Those watching the marathon can spot Adam in his custom t-shirt with Chicago Bears colors. Jack was a huge fan of the Bears.

Adam sees every step of 26.2 miles as an opportunity to raise funds for lung cancer with Respiratory Health Association’s Lung Power Team. Money raised for research may prevent someone else from going through what Jack went through.

“This run’s for Jack.”

To support Adam’s run for lung cancer research, click here.

Lauren’s Helping Kids Breathe Easier

In April 2018, 9–year-old Lauren Wilson shook hands with Senator Daniel Biss and sat down to educate him about a new law being considered in the Illinois legislature – Stock Emergency Asthma Rescue Medication in Schools. The legislation allows schools across the state to keep a supply of albuterol on hand to deal with asthma episodes and other respiratory emergencies, similar to how they keep an EpiPen on hand for allergy emergencies. Advocates like Lauren helped get the law passed in May 2018– now, they’re trying to make sure that it gets implemented. For her first persuasive writing assignment in 3rd grade, she wrote a 3-page paper on why they need to use the new law to stock albuterol in her school.

Father, daughter and senator pose during lung health advocacy meeting.

Lauren and father Jeremy meet with Senator Biss

“Why does it take so long?” That’s Lauren’s newest question for Illinois State legislators. For kids living with asthma who rely on medications like albuterol, waiting for the law to take effect impacts their ability to live well. Lauren carries her inhaler in her backpack and keeps a backup with the school nurse, but those medications are specific to Lauren. The new law lets schools keep ‘undesignated’ medication – meaning it is not prescribed to a specific person – that can be administered to anyone in respiratory distress. This is an important fail-safe in case someone runs out of medication, forgets or loses an inhaler or, as often happens, experiences breathing difficulty for the first time and hasn’t been diagnosed yet. Lauren wants her school to be as prepared for an asthma episode as she is. Lauren has been an advocate for those living with asthma for most of her life, which stems from her own experience with respiratory issues. Lauren was in and out of the hospital and emergency care as an infant. “It was the scariest experience of my life,” her father, Jeremy remembers. “When they tell you that you should say goodbye to your child after hearing she has gone into respiratory failure.”

After her respiratory failure at six months old, doctors diagnosed Lauren with reactive airway because she was too young at the time for a full asthma diagnosis. She began treatment at that time. At four years old, her pulmonologist made the expected diagnosis of asthma. Throughout this journey, Lauren’s mom, Stephanie, began researching ways the entire family could be proactive in Lauren’s care. They worked closely with a pediatrician to develop an asthma action plan and watched Lauren’s symptoms to identify her triggers. Stephanie’s research also led her to Respiratory Health Association, and the entire family got involved. Lauren’s last hospitalization came last fall. Her asthma has been mostly under control since, but it always requires careful monitoring. In the meantime, Lauren continues to participate in sports and spend time with her friends. “I feel pretty fine doing sports,” Lauren says. “I usually don’t have triggers with sports, mostly just allergies and colds.”

Stephanie reminds her, “If you really pushed, we’d give you 2 pumps of albuterol for stair climbs.” Lauren is very proud of the collection of medals she has from sports and charity events. “I keep them all around the house,” she says mischievously. “We’ll find them everywhere,” Stephanie confirms. In October 2018 RHA presented her an award for her asthma advocacy efforts. The Next Generation Advocate awards are given to young people who stand up for a future free of lung disease and to protect our clean air. Lauren keeps that award in the front of the house, where everyone can see it.

Youth advocate and policy director pose with award for efforts to support lung health

Lauren and Matt Maloney, RHA Directory, Health Policy during the 2018 awards ceremony

She also has medals for Hustle Chicago, RHA’s stair climb, and the CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour, which she participated in as an 18-mile rider the first weekend in August. But there are challenges that come with asthma, summer heat, and physical activity. “We didn’t go out and ride today,” Jeremy mentions. “But she did 9 miles a few days ago.” Before July’s heat wave hit the Midwest, Lauren rode a couple times a week. But as the weather got hotter, the air quality worsened and became unhealthy for people with lung disease. Now that it’s cooled down and air quality has improved, she’s back to good riding conditions. It’s just another thing her parents monitor to help keep her asthma under control.

Jeremy and Stephanie joined Lauren for their 5th year of riding CowaLUNGa. She rode 18 miles on the back of Jeremy’s bike and plans to ride the 18 miles on her own bike next year. With plenty of time to train, she’s ready for the challenge. Lauren proudly describes her bike as blue and silver. “I just learned how to shift gears on it. I went on my first hill recently, and down. That’ll make the hill on the first day not as bad,” she says.

Another milestone she’s ready for?

“She wants that big 20 year trophy,” Jeremy says of the celebratory trophies RHA gives five, 10, 15 and 20 year riders. “And I believe she’ll get it.”

Besides asking her fellow riders to join her in supporting RHA’s advocacy efforts, she offers this advice: “Get out and ride. Wear comfy clothes: bike shorts, gloves and a helmet.” To join The Wilsons in their efforts to fund asthma research, advocacy and education, support their fundraising here.

23rd Annual CowaLUNGa Takes Place August 3-5, 2019

Registration for CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour 2019 is now open! Escape the noise of the city for a weekend and explore the scenic Midwest as you bike through northern Illinois into southern Wisconsin.

About CowaLUNGa 2019 Charity Bike Tour

Along the way, you’ll experience an unparalleled level of camaraderie and support from other cyclists and Respiratory Health Association, while helping RHA achieve its vision of healthy lungs and clean air for all.

This is RHA’s 23rd year hosting the CowaLUNGa bike ride, so you can rely on our expertise from years of experience to give you a world-class event.

Choose to ride 18 or 65 miles in one day, 130 miles in two days or 190 miles over three days.

What’s Included When you Register?

All routes are one-way with free return transportation back to the start line and include full SAG and medical support; two daily rest stops; breakfast and dinner. Free overnight parking is available onsite at Gurnee Mills for the event’s duration.

Two and three-day riders (130 & 190 mile routes) also receive comfortable, indoor housing accommodations.

Saturday night is spent at the newly-remodeled Conference Point Center (CPC) on the beautiful shores of Lake Geneva. CPC has 5 stars on Facebook and 4.5 stars on Google reviews!

Sunset over Lake Geneva from Conference Point Center in William's Bay Wisconsin A bedroom at Conference Point Center - Night one of Cowalunga 2019 Living area of a cabin at Conference Point Center Conference Point Center grounds during CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour

Sunday night is CowaLUNGa’s college throw back night at University of Wisconsin Whitewater. Prop those dorm doors open and relive those carefree campus days, complete with games and entertainment in the UWW Student Center.

Dorms at University of Wisconsin WhitewaterUniversity of Wisconsin Whitewater Campus FountainCowaLUNGa entertainment at UWW Student Center

Read more about housing, logistics and other event details here.

Additionally, every participant receives an event shirt and a finisher’s medal at the end of the route to commemorate the bike ride!

CowaLUNGa 2019 Costs & Deadlines

Registration fees and fundraising minimums vary by mileage. Early bird registration discounts are available until June 15.  First-time riders that select two or three day routes receive 50% off registration. Call 312-628-0200 for more information on or to register with our first-time rider discount.

 

CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour 2019 Registration fees chart

For more details, see Costs & Deadlines.

Funds raised support RHA’s programs:

 

Still thinking it over? Sign up for CowaLUNGa email updates.

Ready to ride CowaLUNGa 2019? Start your journey!

Nestor’s Giving Cancer a Run for Its Money

Before January 2018, Nestor Rivera had never even run a 5k. Now, less than two years later, he plans to run the Chicago Marathon with Respiratory Health Association’s Lung Power Team.

“You’d be amazed at what you can train your body to do,” Nestor says. “If you’re just consistent – not perfect – consistent.”

Nestor Rivera running a race

Nestor Rivera is going from couch to marathon in 2 years!

Nestor chose the Lung Power Team because of its mission to fight lung disease. His parents were in their teens when they began smoking. He recalls that his parents were chain smokers from the time he was born to the time he was 9 years old. As a child, he recognized them only with a cigarette in their hand.

But when his sister was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age 21, they feared the possibility that their secondhand smoke had been a contributing factor in the development of her illness. They quit smoking right then. Then in 2013, Nestor’s mother Milagros went in for a lung biopsy to explore an unusual spot  found during tests. After the biopsy, Nestor got a call that he describes as “absolutely earth-shattering.”

“You think you’re going to get a phone call that says everything has gone routinely. Next thing you know, I got word that one third of her lung is gone.”

Nestor’s mother was diagnosed with stage one lung cancer and had a third of her right lung resected on the very same day. Immediately after the surgery Milagros’ breathing was different, but over time she settled into a new normal. Nestor says she’s now feeling great, and as of a few weeks ago, Milagros has been in remission for almost six years. “It’s amazing what your body can tolerate,” Nestor says.

 

Nestor Rivera with his parents in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

Nestor Rivera is running the Chicago marathon in honor of his mother, a lung cancer survivor.

 

His mother’s diagnosis made a huge impact on Nestor and was part of what spurred him to take up running. He’d never been a smoker, but he began to consider – what are other actions could he take to improve his overall health? Since his first race, the Chicago Cubs Race to Wrigley, Nestor has completed eleven more 5k races, two 10ks and a half marathon. He has three more half marathons on the docket for 2019 before running with the Lung Power Team in the fall.

“If there’s a challenge, I’m gonna take it,” Nestor says. “All you really need are a good pair of shoes. It’s not about getting the best time. It’s about achieving things that you didn’t think were possible.”

Nestor’s fundraising has now hit $3,016.20, putting him in first place towards the Lung Power Team’s $42,000 goal. His advice to fellow fundraisers?

Personalize the message.

In addition to his mother’s story, he also shares that his father-in-law has had chronic asthma his entire life. Nestor runs for him, too.

“When I’ve reached out to people individually, I’ve gotten more results,” he says. One challenge Nestor says he faces is that donors don’t feel they can contribute enough. “Some [people] think it’s better not to donate than to donate less than $100, but that’s not true. Every bit counts.” He notes how important it is to make every person feel like their donation makes a difference, no matter the amount.

His final note for fundraising matches his advice for training:

“Persistence.”

To help Nestor and his family fundraise for lung cancer research, asthma, and Tobacco 21, visit Nestor’s fundraising page.

RHA Staffers Hustle For The Mission

On February 24 more than 3,000 people came together in support of a future free of lung disease. A future with healthy lungs and clean air for all. The occasion? Hustle Chicago, RHA’s charity stair climb up 875 N. Michigan Ave., the building formerly called the John Hancock Center.

At RHA we don’t just serve our mission as part of our day jobs – almost every member of our staff participates in our events or volunteers personal time. And this year’s Hustle was no exception. The 2019 RHA Hustlers team brought 21 employees, friends and family together to go the extra mile (or 1,632 steps!) for lung health.

RHA Hustlers team photos at Hustle Chicago 2019

Why We Do What We Do

To share with you some of the passion the team brings to our mission, here’s a quote from RHA Hustlers team captain and RHA staffer, Lesli Vaughan.

“As many of you know, I work in tobacco cessation and prevention at RHA. Mainly that means I work to prevent teens and young adults from starting to smoke or use tobacco products and to help those who do smoke to be smoke free. It’s some of the most rewarding work I’ve done in my life.

There’s nothing quite like hearing someone who smoked multiple packs of cigarettes a day tell you how proud he is of himself because he is now smoke free for the first time in 40 years. Or see a high school student stand up in front of a room full of legislators to tell them why they should adopt a Tobacco 21 policy.

I always say I’m doing the easy work — it’s these people who do the hard stuff. I’m just there to support them.

Unfortunately, the tobacco industry has loads of money and they fight every single day to get more people hooked on cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and other tobacco products.

Despite their non-stop attempts, we can win this battle. But honestly, we need help to do it. As a small non-profit, we don’t have nearly as much money as the tobacco lobbyists that we fight against daily. Your support helps RHA reach new people with our Courage to Quit cessation program and educate more teens, lawmakers, and others about the dangers of tobacco.”

Together the team as raised over $17,000, but we’re still short of our overall fundraising goal for Hustle Chicago 2019.

 

You Can Make a Difference

Thanks to an anonymous donor, all fundraising campaigns in 2019 lead by RHA staff are generously matched $2 for every $1 raised. This effectively triples all gifts given to RHA staff campaigns!

If you’d like to support Respiratory Health Association’s work toward a future free of lung cancer, asthma and COPD and want to see your gift go three times further, donate to one of our RHA Hustlers today.

Joel Africk

Avanthi Chatrathi

Adrienne Hiegel

Mary Rosenwinkel

Magda Slowik

Brian Urbaszewski

Lesli Vaughan

Joann Wong

The Hustle Chicago fundraising deadline is end of day TOMORROW Friday, March 15th.

RHA Raises $156,000 for the Local Fight Against Lung Disease at Annual CHILL Fundraiser

On Thursday, November 8, Respiratory Health Association participated in LuxeHome’s annual event, CHILL: An International Wine and Culinary Event at the historic Merchandise Mart.

Over 1,000 RHA guests sampled a variety of international wines and gourmet foods from Chicago’s premier restaurants to support Respiratory Health Association’s education, research, and policy change efforts.

RHA supporters take a break from the CHILL fun to smile for a photo.

RHA supporters take a break from the CHILL fun to smile for a photo.

Group enjoying their wine samples at CHILL 2018 in the historic Merchandise Mart.

Group enjoying their wine samples at CHILL 2018.

LuxeHome’s event supports three Chicago area charities–Respiratory Health Association is the longest standing charity beneficiary. The 2018 CHILL event marked RHA’s twelfth year participating.

In addition to ticket sales driven by the RHA host committee, the Association raises funds through an onsite wine pull sponsored by McGrath Lexus, silent auction and raffle.

This year, the silent auction offered packages like:

  • An all-inclusive 7-10 day vacation in St. Lucia
  • Two tickets to the Late Show with Stephen Colbert in New York City
  • A guest role in WTTW’s hit show Check, Please!

The success of the silent auction contributed to the overall $156,000 RHA raised for the local fight against lung disease. Thank you to all of our supporters who bid on items.

In addition to the silent auction, RHA is proud to host the Aaland Diamond Jewelers Raffle, with a gorgeous grand prize generously donated by Aaland Diamond Jewelers.

This year’s prizes:

Grand Prize:
One (1) diamond ring by AaLand Diamond Jewelers

Second Prize:
$500 restaurant gift card to Trattoria No. 10

Third Prize:
2015 Bogle Phantom Red Blend California 3L

If you missed CHILL, you can still get in on the raffle fun by purchasing tickets from the RHA website.

Tickets are available until December 14, 2018 11:30 AM CST or until 500 tickets are sold. Perfect timing for a wonderful holiday gift!

Thanks again to all of our CHILL host committee members and sponsors for your continued support of RHA and our vision of healthy lungs and clean air for all.

Revisit the fun of CHILL 2018 on RHA’s Flickr account.

A Daughter’s Dedication Drives Stacey Woodward to Run

Denny and family

Denny and family

A Daughter’s Dedication Drives Stacey Woodward to Run

This year’s Chicago Marathon isn’t Stacey Woodward’s first, but it may be her most emotional. This marathon is dedicated to her father, Denny Wright, who passed away from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in December.

Stacey is the assistant news director at WBAL TV in Maryland, and a member of Respiratory Health Association’s Lung Power Team for the Chicago Marathon. She’s running for advancements in COPD research as a way to memorialize her father, who spent much of his time learning more about the disease and researching COPD treatments.

“Besides being stubborn, we’re not alike at all,” Stacey laughs of her father.

After serving in the US Army during the Vietnam War, Denny took up flying as an amateur pilot.

“He was diagnosed with PTSD after the Vietnam War, and I think flying was a bit therapeutic for him,” Stacey reflects.

As Denny flew over the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Stacey was across the country in Sacramento. There, in a city where she knew no one, she found a community of runners. In her early 20s she joined a team and began training.

When he was later diagnosed with COPD, Denny had to make several lifestyle changes. Once he was on oxygen he could no longer fly. “That really upset him,” Stacey says.

But Denny continued to seek adventure, including traveling and spending time with friends where he was “always the life of the party.” As travel became increasingly difficult, Denny’s determination and curiosity only grew. He decided to become as informed as he could about his condition, which included reading the latest research on COPD and working with his health care providers to explore additional treatment options.

Denny with a young Stacey

Denny with a young Stacey

The Department of Veterans Affairs later confirmed that chemical exposure during his time in the army had contributed to Denny’s illness, along with several other risk factors. While tobacco use is the most common cause of COPD, environmental factors and genetics also play a role.

Unfortunately, COPD research remains vastly underfunded and the role of environmental factors, including chemical exposure, in the development of COPD isn’t fully understood.

Despite Denny’s effort and attempts to receive a lung transplant, he passed away on December 1, 2017 at 70 years old.

Denny donated his body to science to contribute to the advancement in COPD research. Stacey joins him by running for the Lung Power Team and fundraising for current and future research.

When she struggles during a run, Stacey thinks of her dad—and she surrounds herself with support, including many of his friends from the VFW. There’s a certain amount of stubbornness—perhaps better called persistence—required to run a marathon, and she has her dad to thank for that.

Stacey says of the calm that she experiences after a run, “It’s rejuvenating. Running is a journey. Often I do not look forward to it, but I love the feeling after I’m done.”

To support Stacey and her father’s dedication to COPD research, donate to her fundraising.

Alex Simundza isn’t letting asthma slow him down

Alex Simundza isn’t letting asthma slow him down

Alex at CowaLUNGa

Alex at the end of a ride

Despite being diagnosed with asthma at an early age, Alex Simundza always loved playing sports. With the support of his parents and doctors he found ways to manage his asthma and continue playing low-intensity sports like baseball. By keeping his inhaler handy and following his doctor’s instructions, Alex lived an active life.

Then in eighth grade a back injury changed everything. Alex underwent surgery after surgery attempting to repair damage to multiple discs in his lower back, but nothing seemed to work. Finally in high school Alex underwent multiple spinal fusions. It seemed his athletic days were over.

For the next several years Alex found that his asthma worsened. He gained weight and found it difficult to do even basic daily tasks without triggering breathing difficulty. Cardiovascular exercise was the last thing on his mind, but he also knew he couldn’t let his health continue to deteriorate.  After talking with his doctors and conducting extensive research, Alex embarked on a low-intensity exercise plan that combined resistance training and indoor cycling.

Alex’s health gradually improved and by the time he was ready to attend college, he knew he wanted to work in health and fitness. When he found the exercise science major at Western Illinois University, he knew he’d found a career path filled with personal meaning.

Today Alex is a Health Fitness Professional at AbbVie’s Vitality Fitness Center, where he often helps other people with asthma find exercise options that don’t trigger episodes. Though living with asthma is different for everyone, they see that Alex found a way to be active, and he feels that helps him connect with the members living with their own health issues.

“Some people think, ‘you’re a personal trainer and you should be in the best shape of your life.’ But when they see that I’m just like them, they know that they can ask me any question they want.”

Alex at spin class on July 4th

When Alex found cycling, he found a sport that allowed him to be both introspective and competitive. “My dad told me that 100 might be too much for me. He said, ‘you might want to try 50 or 60 miles instead. I said, 100 is good. So my first ride was 100 miles. Pretty good,” he says with a light laugh. Alex feels that cycling and strength training have improved his health and help him manage his asthma. He also makes sure to keep in close contact with his doctor and always has inhaler with him.

Riding his bike also restored the competitive nature that he’d lost during the seven years before his final spinal surgery. Alex describes the joy in being able to train for CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour and give advice to other people trying to improve their overall fitness with cycling. He suggests new riders gain endurance by building a foundation.

“Put your time in. It may seem boring, but spin classes can keep you motivated.” He also suggests watching a movie, which is how he got through long indoor rides at first. Once you start riding outside, find a route that appeals to you. His other piece of advice for long rides? “Always pack the right gear,” including your inhaler if you’re riding with asthma.

Alex will follow other day riders from Gurnee into the quiet waters of Williams Bay, Wisconsin. As the ride path winds into the countryside, his thoughts will likely mirror those he’s had on many cycling tours in the past, “I keep peddling. I listen to the constant whooshing on the pavement and watch the therapeutic rotating of the wheels on the concrete. The constant buzz,” he says, “is like a metronome. It’s really peaceful.”

“I’m excited to be able to ride and support a cause that has affected me almost my entire life.”

To support Alex’s ride at CowaLUNGa and RHA’s asthma programs, visit his fundraising page.

Over 200 Cyclists Ride to Fight Lung Disease at CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 25, 2018
 
Contact: Erica Krutsch
Desk: 312-628-0225 
Cell: 734-262-4527

Over 200 cyclists ride to fight lung disease at CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour

WHAT: Respiratory Health Association’s CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour is an annual cycling event from Lake County, Illinois through southern Wisconsin. Over 200 cyclists of all ages from across Chicagoland will line up at Gurnee Mills to pedal as far as 190 miles in Respiratory Health Association’s 22nd annual CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour. Participants will bike 18 miles, one, two or three days and cross the finish line in Hubertus, Wisc. The event will raise $200,000 for Respiratory Health Association’s lung disease research and programs.

WHY: The tour raises awareness and funds to fight lung diseases such as asthma, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and to support clean air and other healthy lung initiatives. This year’s event kicks off with special guests Illinois State Senator Terry Link, Lake County Board Member Paul Frank and youth advocates for lung health from the Catalyst Youth Prevention Group of Stevenson High School. Respiratory Health Association will thank participants for the important roles they played in passing Illinois’ new Tobacco 21 legislation, which raises the tobacco purchase age to 21 from 18, a policy proven to reduce teen smoking. The deadline for Gov. Rauner to sign Tobacco 21 into law is August 27.

WHEN: Saturday – Monday, August 4, 5 and 6, 2018. Start line media opportunities begin at 7:00 a.m. Ride begins at 9:00 a.m.

WHERE: Start line located in Gurnee Mills Parking Lot H, at the intersection of Interstate 94 and Grand Avenue (IL 132) in Gurnee, Ill. Cyclists will travel through southern Wisconsin Aug. 5 and 6 with stops in Williams Bay, Whitewater, and Hubertus, Wisc.

SCHEDULE FOR PHOTO/VIDEO OPPORTUNITIES:

  • 7:00 a.m. Riders begin arriving in Gurnee Mills Parking Lot H to check in
  • 9:00 a.m. The Charity Bike Tour officially kicks off with Lake County legislators ringing the official start line bell. Riders depart for Wisconsin as a mass start.
  • Media opportunities at other points of the ride can be arranged by contacting Erica Krutsch, RHA Director of Marketing & Communications, at 734-262-4527.

INTERVIEW OPPORTUNITIES (REQUESTED IN ADVANCE IF POSSIBLE):

  • Hundreds of cyclists, many of whom are personally affected by lung disease
  • Youth advocates for lung health from the Catalyst Youth Prevention Group of Stevenson High School (Lincolnshire, Ill.), representing the youth sector of Stand Strong Coalition
  • Joel Africk, President and CEO of Respiratory Health Association
  • Illinois State Senator Terry Link
  • Lake County Board Member Paul Frank

###

Respiratory Health Association has been a local public health leader since 1906. Today, the association works to prevent lung disease, promote clean air and help people live better through education, research and policy change. For more information, visit www.resphealth.org.

Her Mother’s Memory Pushes Melanie to the Finish

Two women smiling

Melanie with her mother

Melanie Santarelli ran the Chicago marathon when she was 10 weeks pregnant. 

The accomplishment speaks to a toughness that Melanie learned from her own mother, Theresa, whose battle with cancer spurred Melanie to begin running. 

At 47, doctors diagnosed Theresa with stage four squamous cell cancer of unknown primary. Squamous cell lung cancer accounts for 30 percent of all lung cancers. After ruling other cancers out, doctors strongly suspected lung cancer. Theresa was a smoker for many years although she quit several years earlier on her 40th birthday. 

Melanie recalls her mother as healthy and active, and the cancer diagnosis came as a shock. 

“You think you’ve quit,” Melanie says, “You don’t realize that these effects carry with you even if you change the behavior. The body just doesn’t turn around like that.” 

Despite the diagnosis, Theresa continued her work as a family and child therapist, working long hours to help families in crisis. Melanie recalls that despite a mentally and emotionally demanding job, her mother always made time for her family. 

Theresa endured rounds of radiation and chemotherapy, always putting her family ahead of herself. She experienced terrible pain as the cancer spread and hindered her ability to walk. 

After three years of struggling, Theresa passed away, just four months before Melanie’s wedding. 

“She was and is an absolute inspiration,” Melanie says, “She never wanted to give up.” 

Woman with stroller and toddler running

Melanie running with her children

Melanie took up running as a way to process the loss. Theresa was a sprinter, and Melanie felt connected to her as she ran up and down Chicago’s lakefront. 

This year Melanie will run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon as a member of Respiratory Health Association’s Lung Power Team. The funds raised benefit the Association’s work to advance lung cancer research and help people quit smoking. 

Though this is her third marathon, Melanie continues to set the bar higher for herself and hopes to finish with a 4:20 time. During her most difficult training sessions, the memory of Theresa’s determination pushes her toward the finish. 

“The training is harder than the marathon,” Melanie explains. “The marathon is the reward at the end. If you can get the through the training, you can get through anything. That’s the mental toughness.” 

Now a mother herself, Melanie feels closer to her mother than ever. Whenever she runs, she mentally checks in with her mom and updates her on her life. 

“She gave me this body, and I’m able to do this because of her. She’s my motivator and my strength.” 

To support Melanie Santarelli and lung cancer research, donate to her fundraising campaign.