Three years ago, Elizabeth Sadler (MBA ’17) started to run.
She was living in California at the time, and running was a way to bond with her dad, John Sadler. “In his younger years, he was an avid runner,” said Sadler. “We would go to his races on the weekend and watch him compete. So running was a way to share a hobby and to show my respect for him. He would give advice about pacing, race strategies and how to conquer hills.”
The nemesis of most runners, but Sadler and her dad actually enjoyed them.
“They are a challenge and a test of will,” said Sadler. “My dad always said hills are a place a runner can't hide. He may not have been the fastest, but he could out-work anyone and beat them on the hills. When I started off very slow, he encouraged me and told me that I was made to be an endurance runner.”
Endurance became a family hallmark when John was diagnosed with kidney cancer in September 2009. He died this past January, but lived much longer than doctors originally predicted.
As John Sadler battled cancer, Sadler and her sister Jennifer took up another challenge.
In fall 2015, Jennifer applied for the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge Team (DFMC), an organization that offers individuals the opportunity to run the Boston Marathon in order to raise funds for the Claudia Adams Barr Program in Innovative Basic Cancer Research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Jennifer was accepted and began to fundraise to secure the $5,000 required to receive a "charity" number, which earns the runner entry into the Boston Marathon.
Elizabeth decided she couldn’t stay on the sidelines.
“I knew my dad's fight with cancer was coming to an end and I would have a long and emotional grieving process,” said Sadler. “I was at Notre Dame studying for my MBA and going through the Investment Banking recruiting process. I had a lot on my plate, yet felt compelled to apply for the team.
“The day I told my parents I was accepted, Dad became paralyzed from a tumor that compressed his spinal column,” Sadler continued. “This horrible turn of events gave the marathon purpose, a sense of continuity to do something he loved, but could no longer do. He said he hoped to be at the finish line. This unbridled optimism sustained him over the years and has been a source of motivation for me.”
This year, the Team was comprised of 550-plus members with a goal of raising more than $5 million. Many were personally connected to Dana-Farber – former patients, others have lost a loved one who was treated at the Institute. A closed Facebook group was created for team members. The usual questions about marathon prep frequented the thread. However, there were often posts about those who had experienced a loss or received news about a family member's prognosis. The Team became a community of other like-minded people who wanted to do their part to fight cancer.
“My sister and I made it through the training regimen that was provided by the team coach, Jack Fultz, who won the 1976 Boston Marathon,” said Sadler. “My first training run was from my parents' house to the Hospice House to visit my dad. It was three miles and the last mile was uphill (naturally).”
At the Boston Marathon starting line, Sadler silently doubted her body would make it 26.2 miles. Her longest training run was 20 miles, and the unknown of those last 6.2 miles was daunting.
“Although my dad was not at the finish line, his spirit got me through the 26.2 miles,” said Sadler. “The back of my singlet read ‘Dad 1.17.16’ and I wrote the initials of family, friends and classmates who had lost a loved one to cancer on my forearm as inspiration.”
Along the course, runners would run by and thank the sisters for running on behalf of Dana-Farber, sharing stories about how the Institute saved someone they loved. Strangers on the sidelines yelled, "Go Dana-Farber!" and "Thank you!"
“The race wasn't about earning a certain time; it was a way to harness my pain and use it to help others,” Sadler said. “My sister and I crossed the finish line together holding a picture of our dad. I ran for him and all those who cannot run because of cancer. Their memory focused my mind and their strength freed my body.”
Sadler met her initial funding goal of $5,000 and now wants to raise an additional $3,000. The majority of the donations have come from family, friends and peers who have been part of her journey over the years.
“If I am able to help one family enjoy more time with their loved one, I have succeeded,” she said. “I am forever grateful for my connection to Dana-Farber and hope to have the opportunity to run with the Team again next year.”