Joan Benoit Samuelson was one of the 6,000 people who came to Jacksonville, Fla., on Feb. 15 to help find a cure for breast cancer. Samuelson, who won a gold medal at the Los Angeles Summer Olympics in 1984, the year that the women's marathon was introduced, joined racers from every state and 15 countries - including Brazil, Puerto Rico and Kenya - to run in the second annual 26.2 with Donna - The National Marathon to Fight Breast Cancer.
Created by Donna Deegan, a three-time breast cancer survivor, local news anchor and Mayo Clinic patient, the event is the only national marathon dedicated exclusively to raising funds for breast cancer research and care. Seventy percent of the money is given to Mayo Clinic for research and the rest goes to The Donna Foundation, Deegan's organization that helps women battling the disease. Last year, more than $800,000 was raised.
Samuelson, 51, began the race alongside Deegan and Edith Perez, M.D., oncologist and director of the Breast Center at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus. She placed second in the half-marathon, crossing the finish line in 1:23:21. "What a great event," Samuelson says. "It's very special and an inspiration to be with all of the other cancer survivors who are out there."
More than 200 Mayo Clinic employees from all three of campuses participated in the marathon as well. Among them were Laurie Simon, Oluyinka Ajirotutu, Cayla Johnson and Michelle Mungo - all from the Florida campus. The women, who all trained together, say they were inspired by family members and friends who battled the disease but also by the thousands of other women who may benefit from the funds raised by the event.
Next year's event is already scheduled for Feb. 21, 2010. Details are available on the marathon's Web site.