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The Impact of a Hometown Marathon

By Erica Taylor

Point Park News Service

Runners begin the 2012 Pittsburgh Marathon Sunday May 6, 2012 along Liberty Avenue downtown. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

Travis Wilkins learned that there was a scholarship for up to $5,000 in 2008 and now he has a job at Bank of New York Mellon as an account analyst.

In March 2011, Shawn didn’t know how his life would change when armed gunmen opened fire on both he and and his younger brother.

The death of Mickey Johnson’s son led him to create Cody’s Crew which supports research of Neuroblastoma.

The Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon- a non-profit organization which promotes the long-distance running and supports community involvement is hosting their annual fundraiser that promises to have record-breaking participants in May 2013.

“In 2010 we went from having 30 runners and raising $13,000 to having 91 runners and raising $47,000 in 2011”, said Cindy Dell, Manager, Marketing & Communications of Urban Impact Foundation, one of the participants this year.

From 1985 to 2003, the race was held annually and named the University of Pittsburgh’s Medical Center (UPMC)/City of Pittsburgh Marathon, although serious financial difficulty within the City of Pittsburgh municipal budget and UPMC’s withdraw from title sponsor led to suspension of the race from 2004 to 2008.

Revived in 2009, the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon debuted with a sold-out field of 10,000 participants. It has sold out each year, and in 2013, a record-breaking 28,000 are expected to register.

One of the charities participating this year is The Pittsburgh Promise who has help fund people like Travis Wilkins to pursue secondary education. As a senior at Taylor Allderdice High School in 2007, Wilkins discovered an opportunity to earn a scholarship for up to $5,000 for being enrolled in Pittsburgh Public Schools throughout his educational career and meet certain academic criteria.

After attending the Pittsburgh Promise Gala, an event held in order to celebrate the first class of the Pittsburgh Promise to graduate. Wilkins ran into Natalie Smetanka (a recruiter at BNY Mellon), whom he had previously met at a career launch event and also had the opportunity to be introduced to Terri Fitzgerald with BNY which created a tremendous career opportunity. “After applying, and having a few informational interviews with several different human resource representatives– I was finally able to land a job interview which ultimately landed a job at BNY”, Wilkins said.

Only weeks away from high school graduation and entering the army after 4 successful years of ROTC training, Shawn (last name not released), an Urban Impact student and choir member and his brother were on the porch of their family home. When the bullets started flying Shawn leaned in to protect his brother from the assault. Four illegal hollow-tipped bullets exploded inside of him; this damage is far worse than if he’d been shot with regular bullets.

Shawn endured excruciating pain and almost unbearable procedures that went on for 12 months until March 2012 before doctors were finally able to stabilize him. He had lost 100 pounds since the attack, and could not eat or drink solid food because his esophagus had been punctured. Doctors had to remove it, and his only nourishment came through a tube in his throat. The only hope was in the form of reconstructive surgery to replace his esophagus, but to qualify Shawn had to gain 20 pounds.

However when gaining 20 pounds while on an all-liquid diet seemed impossible, The Urban Impact Performing Arts Department staff and volunteers, along with the Middle School/High School Choir and Children’s Choir, committed to fasting and prayer. They met to pray voraciously that the calories they were giving up in sacrificing chocolates, desserts, and meals would be transferred supernaturally to Shawn.

“He had suddenly gained 10 pounds! Then God surprised us again when Shawn gained another 10 pounds, totaling the necessary 20”, Dell said.

Mickey Johnson lives in Manassas, VA found out in September 2004 that his 2-year-old son Cody was diagnosed with Stage IV Neuroblastoma, which is a cancer found in children that forms in the nerve tissue. It usually begins in the adrenal glands, but can also begin in your neck, chest or spinal cord. Cody had to go through chemo- therapy, stem cell transplant and some very painful and toxic drugs that seemed to help for the time. In November 2007 his cancer returned stronger than ever and Cody fought it until March 6, 2009 when he couldn’t take it anymore.

Johnson, originally from Ford City, Penn., was determined to do something that would help to raise awareness and fund research for Neuroblastoma and he found that way by creating Cody’s Crew a non-profit organization in Virginia. May 2012 will mark his 4th year that he’s run in the marathon, but it’s the 3rd time Cody’s Crew has participated as a charity.

Participating in the marathon over the past 2 years Cody’s Crew have worked diligently to raise over $20K and $15K of that was raised in 2011. Last year the organization had 30 runners and they hope to match that for the coming marathon. “This past September we awarded our first $100K research grant to NANT (New Approaches to Neuroblastoma Therapy). There is no cure to this disease. We hope to help find one,” Johnson said.

The research grant for NANT at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles helps to fund a meaningful research in the NANT Clinical Trial N2011-01. Then Johnson will be supporting the N2011-02 trial, which will test how to further enhance the effectiveness of treatment with Iodine-131-MIBG. These are research studies performed that goes to developing an understanding and treatment of the high-risk cancer. “I-131MIBG is a unique treatment that uses an IV dose of radiation, attached to iodine, to target the cancer-causing cells. This therapy is currently used to treat Neuroblastoma that has either relapsed or has not responded to treatment,” said Lisa Keller, Registered Nurse, and Nurse Practitioner with American Family Children’s Hospital’s Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplant program.

The 2012 marathon event featured more than 25,000 participants and 3,000 volunteers while raising more than $2 Million for charity. The Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon is a non-profit organization which promotes the love of long-distance running and enhances community involvement in fitness activities through high quality events open to a wide variety of ages and ability levels.

Over 50 charities will be participating in the event and with record-breaking numbers can surely hope to not only increase awareness and fund-raise to benefit a multitude of causes but also continue it’s goal of bringing Pittsburgh communities together.

Registration for the 2013 marathon began Oct. 3, 2012 and remains open until race week the deadline to register is May 3-4, 2013. The Marathon, Half Marathon and Marathon Relay will be held on Sunday, May 5, 2013. The 5K Run and the Kids Marathon will be held on Saturday, May 4, 2013.

Registration fees are based on the date you register: November 6, 2012 – January 7, 2013 $100, January 8, 2012 – February 11, 2013 $110, February 12, 2013 – March 11, 2013 $120, March 12, 2013 – March 31, 2013 $130, Race Weekend (May 3-4, 2013) $130.

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