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Closer to the finish line, closer to a cure
By Melissa Hutsell

The non-profit Leukemia and Lymphoma Society has helped to raise more than one billion dollars for lifesaving research through endurance sports training. The national organization, which includes local chapters such as the Northern San Joaquin Valley’s Team in Training, gathers participants from around the U.S. to raise funds and awareness for research and support by competing in marathons/half marathons and triathlons.

Participants from Merced, Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Tuolumne counties are training to walk, swim, bike and run in events such as the San Francisco Nike Half Marathon, Santa Cruz’s Ironman and Pacific Grove’s Triathlon. To prepare for the feat, each team member will spend several months training and fundraising under the guidance of certified coaches.

“The participants get a training schedule that includes workouts to be done on their own between the group workouts,” said Angela Schut, a Team in Training run/walk coach. “We provide information on nutrition, injury prevention and shoe clinics to keep everyone healthy during our training.”

Schut joined Team in Training in 2008 and has since run 30 marathons, and counting.

“Joining Team in Training is a life-changing event. Every endurance event is a huge accomplishment because no matter how experienced you are as an athlete, an endurance event is never easy,” she said.

She added that anyone with a passion for saving lives can compete, no experience is necessary.

“We have participants who have never done a 5K all the way to participants who have run the prestigious Boston Marathon. The run/walk team has the option of half or full marathons for both walkers and runners,” said Schut.

Sabrina Santos, participant, volunteer and mentor with LLS, said that training with the team provides a support network found nowhere else.

“The coaches, mentors and captains are dedicated to your success,” she said. “We like to say 'Train like someone’s life depends on it…. because it does.’”

Both Schut and Santos agree that the support of the team environment is invaluable. “When you are training and fundraising alongside others, a great bond forms,” said Schut. “We are challenging ourselves with our training, but we do it for a more important reason than just crossing a finish line; we are trying to make a difference for those with blood cancers. We are helping those who are currently in treatment and those who will be diagnosed in the future, and all the while remembering those who lost their fight.”

Perhaps the biggest motivation for each team member is seeing the difference they have made.

“The thing I love about LLS and Team in Training is that they commit that 75 percent of all funds raised go directly toward their mission. And they don’t just preach it, they show you,” said Santos.

Each week, the participants hear from people who have personally received the funding the team has raised to help with care and research.

“They say seeing is believing, and I love believing and knowing that my efforts are making a difference in people’s lives, not someday, but today,” added Santos.

Schut has also seen the direct affects of the Society’s fundraising efforts.

"A sibling of a former student of mine was in treatment for leukemia, and doing very well on a drug that was funded in large part by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I was able to see those fundraising dollars at work saving a life. That is what it's all about," she said.