The Run to Remember
Three years ago, I stood outside the starting line of the Philadelphia Marathon with a mix of excitement, fear, and adrenaline pumping through my veins.
The fact that I was running a marathon was a complete surprise to everyone—including myself.
I had once dreamed about taking on the challenge of a marathon back in my early twenties, the part of my life when I had all the time in the world, but foolishly thought I was too busy.
Before long, the years flew by—I got married, had three kids, and fully believed that a marathon was never going to happen. I moved on and mentally erased it from my bucket list of goals.
As the cliché goes, never say never.
I soon realized that I could run a marathon—I just needed to find the right inspiration. I found it through the heartache of watching my mother slip away into the depths of Alzheimer’s.
Eight years ago, my incredible mom, Bobbie Lonergan, who raised thirteen children and a beloved grandmother of 33, was diagnosed with this devastating disease.
Over the years, it was difficult to see her struggle with daily living. It was awful to see pieces of her disappear before my eyes and it was heartbreaking to realize that she no longer knew my name.
So when I heard about the Alzheimer’s Association Run to Remember fundraiser as part of the Philadelphia Marathon—there was no question in my mind. This marathon would be for Mom.
My sister Leslie and I signed up together and partnered for a physical and emotional mission—we couldn’t stop what was happening to Mom, but we could raise money for a cure and generate awareness.
We trained for months pushing our bodies past their natural limits of endurance, and promised each other that no matter what happened on race day—we’d cross that finish line come hell or high water.
On November 20, 2009, Marathon Day, the weather was perfect for a long run—clear, sunny, and the temperature rising to the mid-forties.
We started off on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a world-class cultural corridor with its international flags sailing high on each side. I couldn’t help but think of Mom knowing that she was just one of the 35 million living with Alzheimer’s worldwide.
I ran for miles with strength, faith, and determination—all the things that Mom had taught me through her lifelong example. Everything was fine until mile eighteen. I was heading into vibrant Manayunk, nestled on the banks of the Schuylkill River, when my calves started cramping up and sending spasms of agonizing pain.
I had passed a few runners who had been taken away by medical staff due to injuries and I thought, “Please God, I beg you, don’t let that happen to me. This is for Mom.” I stretched my legs, walked for ten minutes, and continued on at a much slower pace.
Between my prayers and thoughts of Mom, I made it back toward the finishing loop, through the cheering crowds, and on toward the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
In the distance, I saw the museum’s cascading steps that were made famous in the film Rocky and couldn’t help but hear its theme song in my head. I mentally reached a new level of determination—nothing could stop me.
As I crossed the finish line, I broke through a physical test of endurance that I had once deemed impossible.
My eyes welled up and I cried sweet tears of joy, pain, and love. As my tears trickled down my face, I knew that with the strength of Mom running inside me—I could do anything in life.
Since the 2009 Marathon, Leslie and I have participated in the half-marathon annual fundraiser. Due to a running injury, I need to skip this year’s race, but I’m proud to support Leslie and the entire Alzheimer’s Association Philadelphia Run to Remember team.
Kerry Lonergan Luksic is a writer, an Alzheimer’s advocate, and author of the memoir, Life Lessons from a Baker’s Dozen: 1 Mother, 13 Children, and their Journey to Peace with Alzheimer’s. Ten-percent of royalties earned will be donated to Alzheimer’s support and research programs. Some of her other Alzheimer’s advocacy work has been published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Star Ledger, The Main Line Times, WHYY NewsWorks, and Parents Express. She lives with her husband and three daughters outside of Philadelphia.