Monday, March 31, 2014

Q&A with marathon runner Shannon Sawyer

Image of marathon runner Shannon Sawyer, and patient partner Amanuel, age 5 , leukemia
Shannon Sawyer, running for Amanuel, age 5, leukemia.

Q: What is your name?

A: Shannon Sawyer

Q: Where are you from?

A: I grew up in Acton, MA, but I now live in Natick, MA, just a short distance from the marathon course!

Q: Why did you choose to run the marathon for MassGeneral Hospital for Children?

A: I chose to run for MassGeneral Hospital for Children after meeting Dr. Howard Weinstein through a local running club. He is so passionate about the team and the cause that I felt as though there was no way I couldn’t run this year without raising money for MGHfC. On a more personal note, I have watched several of my family members struggle with cancer, and it is a truly devastating experience. I was not able to help those members of my family, but I would like to do what I can to help make sure that others do not have to go through the same experience. The individuals I knew who were diagnosed with cancer were all adults and had so much more life experience than that of a young child diagnosed with childhood cancer. While their lives were unfairly cut short, my loved ones who passed away had a chance to pursue many of the things that they wanted in life. I would like to do everything I can to make sure that the kids treated at MGHfC have that same chance.

Q: What kind of experience do you have as a runner?

A: I have been running for about 10 years now. I have run approximately 15 half marathons, a 50k, a 50 miler, and a three-day, 60 mile stage race. This will be my 10th marathon and my 5th time running Boston.

Q: What inspires you as a runner?

A: As a runner, I have always been inspired by the challenge of pushing myself farther than I think I can go. I enjoy the challenge of new types of races and the constant quest for personal best race times. For this year’s Boston Marathon, I feel as though there has been a subtle shift in my source of motivation from an internal drive to a desire to give back with a sport that has given me so much. The Boston Marathon has always been one of my favorite running events, and has certainly motivated me over the years to keep striving for improvement. In the immediate aftermath of last year’s tragic events, I remembered wondering whether Boston would ever be the same. Over the past few months, I have been continually amazed at how people have responded to this year’s race. In joining the Mass General Marathon Team, I have met an amazing group of runners that give up so much of their own time to train and raise money, many while working full-time jobs and caring for their own families. I have met people for whom running is not an easy task, but who get up early every weekend to put in hours of hard work to make sure that they can finish the race. I have met an amazing kid that, despite spending too much of his childhood in the hospital, is full of energy and greets everyone with a huge smile. I have met doctors and hospital staff members who are truly dedicated to their work, and who wake up every day with the hopes of making the lives of others just a little bit easier. I have received heartwarming responses from businesses and individuals who jumped at the chance to donate goods or services to help us fundraise. And I have seen literally thousands of runners out on the roads and sidewalks around Boston, showing our community and the rest of the world that rather than letting a traumatic experience keep them from doing what they love, they will come back in larger numbers and will raise more money than they ever have before. All of this has been so humbling and inspiring, especially in light of the reaction that could have been. So this year, I will be running not for myself, but for a very special cause and for everything that makes me proud to be a part of the running community.

Q: What has been your most memorable moment preparing for the marathon?

A: Due to an injury, I had to take six weeks off of running, and I was seriously concerned that I would not be able to run the marathon this year. The injury, combined with this winter’s weather has made this a particularly challenging training cycle. One weekend, on a very rare beautiful and sunny Saturday, I was able to complete a 16 mile training run from Newton to Boston. Along the way, we passed many marathon runners of all abilities and experience levels preparing for the big day on April 21st. The feeling of being lucky enough to go out and run 16 miles, especially on a beautiful day, was almost overwhelming. There was a definite sense of camaraderie out on the roadways, and it made me realize how much I had missed being out on the roads with other runners prepping for Boston. Running is technically an individual sport, but the atmosphere around Boston leading up to the marathon makes it seem like a true team effort. Finishing the run in Boston near the site of the finish line was rewarding and reassuring, and it was the first time in months that I felt as though I could finish the race. That day will definitely be one that sticks in my mind as the days wind down to April 21st.

Q: What have you learned about your patient partner and what makes him special?

A: I have just recently met Amany and his family, and I have learned that he is a little ball of energy!  For a kid that has been through something so challenging, Amany is so happy and upbeat. He has an infectious smile and a very bubbly personality. Amany has an older brother, Sammy, who is also full of energy. It’s tough to tire out marathoners, but Sammy and Amany had us running laps around the hallways during our visit. They gave us a full workout!

Q: What are you most looking forward to about marathon day?

A:  I can’t wait to see Amany and Sammy at mile 20 of the marathon route. I had to take six weeks off of running during peak training due to an injury, so I am a little bit anxious about tackling the full 26.2 miles this time around. Knowing that Amany is waiting for me at mile 20 to cheer me along will get me through the majority of the race, and I am sure that his support will encourage me to make it to the finish line!

Q: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

A: I want to say how impressed I have been with the doctors and staff members that work for Mass General. From our first team meeting, every interaction has been overwhelmingly positive. When we visited the clinic, everyone was so positive, caring and welcoming.  I expected an oncology clinic to be a somewhat depressing environment, but the Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Clinic at MGHfC was just the opposite. The facility is bright, cheery and upbeat. The kids all seem so comfortable there, as if they are at a home away from home. I wish every person who donated could see what a wonderful job MGHfC does. I have no doubt that every dollar raised is being well-utilized and makes a real difference in the lives of the kids treated at the clinic.

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