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Widower runs, rides to honor his wife

Russell Marlowe's wife, Patricia died last year of leukemia. Now he dedicates much of his life to raising money to fight the disease.

By MARY CARMICHAEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 12, 2000


NEW PORT RICHEY -- In their wedding portrait, they looked destined to live happily ever after.

Russell Marlowe stood on the left, his chin lifted in pride. The red-headed ingenue on the right was his bride, Patricia.

Russell and Patricia took a honeymoon in Switzerland and later went to Pacific Grove, Calif. And they did live happily for 10 years in New Port Richey. They didn't have any children, but they did make a home for two golden retrievers and a feisty stray cat.

Everything was going so well -- but then it all ended abruptly. Patricia was diagnosed with leukemia. She died in February 1999.

A month of mourning went by.

Then Russell, a New Port Richey lawyer, heard the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society was planning a fund-raising triathlon in, of all places, Pacific Grove. "It just seemed like the right thing to do, with Patricia . . .," Marlowe said, his voice trailing off. "I could feel it calling me."

In the past year, Marlowe has followed that call from Pacific Grove's chilly 53-degree ocean waters to the sloping shores of Lake Tahoe. Next October, he'll fly to Dublin, Ireland to run a marathon through the Irish countryside with other LLS supporters.

He just returned June 6 from a 100-mile fund-raising ride around Lake Tahoe -- "it's not a race, he emphasizes, but rather in cyclist parlance, a "century ride."

Marlowe and two of his friends -- New Port Richey residents Diane Chacon and Traci Kanyok, who also rode in the Lake Tahoe fund-raiser -- are part of the Suncoast chapter of the LLS, which directs about 80 percent of its funds to patient services and research on blood-related cancers.

The LLS organizes about 20 events a year, from marathons in Honolulu to century rides in Santa Fe, N.M. For each event, members are given a fund-raising goal -- usually between $3,000 and $5,000 -- and instructions on how to write an effective fund-raising letter. They don't ask for sponsorship by mile. Rather, they just give people something tangible to sponsor, and tell them their money will go to a good cause.

The result? The LLS raised $4.4-million from the Lake Tahoe century ride alone.

The fund-raising isn't all that tough compared with the physical strains put on the athletes. Facing a 1,000-foot climb up those steep shores of Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada Mountains was daunting, Kanyok said.

But when she needed inspiration, it came easily.

"I was just playing a mind game," she said, "reminding myself over and over why I was doing this. And I finished! I finished. And if what I was doing can help only one person, then it's worthwhile."

For Russell Marlowe, it wasn't about one person, but three. On the ride, he wore three hospital bracelets inscribed with their names.

There was his honored patient, a child assigned to him by the LLS. There was another girl he knew through LLS, who had died a few months earlier.

And there was Patricia. Marlowe's never had any trouble explaining why he wears himself out for this cause. He can simply pull out his wedding album and flip to the front page. There's Patricia, resplendent in her wedding portrait. "That's why," he says. "That's why."

- Staff writer Mary Carmichael can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6232 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6232. Her e-mail address is carmichael@sptimes.com.

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