In January 2009, Michele Gannon became ill. For a month, the mother of three young children—now 4, 7, and 9—struggled with what little energy she had to help take care of her family, her house, and her life.
How, she later asked her husband, could a woman with a longterm illness possibly cope?
By May of that year, just four months later, Gannon and co-founder Maria McKeon had rented space in an Ocean Grove, NJ, bed and breakfast and launched "Mary's Place By The Sea," a haven for women being treated for cancer.
Obviously, Gannon is not one to do anything by half, except for this, wholeheartedly: On April 15, Gannon, McKeon, and two Mary's Place volunteers, Jeanie Coomber and Maggie Simon , will run the ninth annual More Magazine/Fitness Magazine Women's Half-Marathon to raise awareness of the facility. They expect to be cheered along the two loops of Central Park by some of the 500 guests they've hosted over the past two years.
Mary's Place offers both day services and overnight stays for up to three days, providing women a respite from their daily responsibilities and offering alternative approaches such as massage, Reiki, nutritionists, and organic chefs to complement medical care.
"It's empowering to women every time they come in," said Gannon, 44. Running the half-marathon, she said, will be nothing. "You see how hard they fight and you say, 'I can do this.'"
That's not to say the race will be without challenges of its own: Of the four women, only McKeon—who has completed the More/Fitness race six times since it began in 2004—was a runner before they began training in January.
"I was not a runner at all," said Gannon. The first thing she did was to cut out an ad for the race in Fitness Magazine and put a photo of her face on the body of a very fit runner. "I have this on the front of my refrigerator for all to see," she said. "My kids got a kick out of that."
Next came a walk-run training program, downloaded from the internet, and a playlist for her iPod.
"It wasn't that I was sedentary before this, but I didn't allocate time for myself each day. Now I do," she said, voicing pleasure at the energy that it's given her to keep up with her responsibilities to both her family and Mary's Place. "I can't wait to go running each day."
Her responsibilities toward Mary's Place grew last September, when the respite facility leased a new six-bedroom house with an option to buy. They have three years in which to raise the purchase price of $900,000. To that end, a walkathon has been scheduled for May 12, the day before Mother's Day, with a goal of raising $100,000.
But before that comes the sold-out half-marathon, which will be the first race Gannon has ever done. When she and her running mates recently visited a running store for some gear and a clerk learned that they had chosen a half-marathon as their debut, they were asked if they had considered the possibility of starting with a shorter race.
"That's just my type of personality," Gannon said, chuckling as she relayed the story. "Instead of volunteering at a cancer respite house, I have to start one."