Friday, March 2, 2012

Somerville Woman Trains for Medical School and Marathon to Honor Father

Jenna Norton ran her first half-marathon in Houston, TX.

Joining the MassGeneral Marathon Team is one stop in a long journey that Jenna Norton, 27, of Somerville, began 4 years ago when her father died of cancer in her hometown of Houston, TX.

At the time, Norton was a 23-year-old theatre arts major specializing in Shakespeare. Her father’s death led her down a new life path. She quit smoking, started running, and became a passionate fundraiser for cancer programs. By 2009, she began running for charity, starting with a 5k for the American Cancer Society.

“After that race I was inspired to achieve some fantastic things,” Norton said.

Balancing two jobs and schoolwork, she ran a 10K, a half-marathon, a 25k and then the Chevron Houston Marathon in early 2010. She had lost 30 lbs. and raised more than $1,000 for local cancer foundations.

She also began volunteering at MD Anderson Cancer Center and Texas Children’s Hospital (TCH). At TCH she designed arts and crafts programs for children undergoing chemotherapy. It was there that she realized she wanted to become an oncologist or a hematologist.

Norton graduated cum laude in December 2010 and was accepted into the Health Careers Program at Harvard Extension, which offers science classes for non-traditional post-baccalaureate pre-medical students. She left her family and friends behind in August 2011 and moved to Boston in pursuit of her new dream.

While working at the MGH Center for Regenerative Medicine, she learned of the MassGeneral Marathon team and decided to join. Norton knew she had to run for her father and the life he inspired.

She wears a locket he gave her containing a silly photograph of them from a Valentine’s Day dance. Her dresser is lined with birthday cards he gave her. She says they’re her morning inspiration. When she runs, Norton says, “I think of the intangible things, such as his favorite quote, ‘Life is a journey and not a destination,’ or the theme song to his favorite show Star Trek: Enterprise.” 

Finding the time to train isn’t easy for Norton. She’s juggling her training with work, classes, and a heavy course load. She’s also finding time to volunteer at Mass General and for Boston Cares. She says planning is her key to success; she must add all her runs to her calendar to stay on schedule and maps out routes on She runs the shorter distances in the mornings before work and makes time in the evenings for her midweek long runs. On the weekends, she runs on her study breaks.

Norton’s hoping to make the next step on this journey in 2013, when she begins applying for medical school.

Learn more about Norton or donate at

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