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Out of breath, to benefit lungs

Runners with connections to lung cancer form a charitable team at Sunday's Hops Marathon by the Bay.

© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 30, 2001

After her mother died from lung cancer last year, Theresa Levering decided to make a difference. She wanted to raise money and awareness for the disease, to do something her mother could not in the late stages of her illness.

The decision has put her on a long road, but Sunday she will not run alone.

The Run for the Lungs team, a new organization raising money for the Alliance for Lung Cancer Advocacy, Support and Education, is bringing 13 men and women from across the country to the Hops Marathon by the Bay.

Each person has a personal connection to lung cancer, and each will step to the starting line of the 26.2-mile race having raised at least $3,000.

"It's so nice. I wanted to do something," said Levering, 36, who will team with a friend from Boston in the marathon relay. "And I can do this, as difficult as it is."

In July, the team made its debut at the San Francisco Chronicle Marathon, with nine runners raising more than $40,000. The Hops Marathon is its final race this year, and next year the team plans to come to Tampa after stops in San Francisco, Cincinnati and Washington.

"This time of year, we thought Tampa would lend itself to a nice getaway," said team founder Kevin Manley, who turns 31 Sunday. "We heard the organization and the course were very runner-friendly."

Manley was a week into training for his first marathon two years ago when his sister-in-law was diagnosed with lung cancer. He wanted to do something more than "my offering to take care of the kids, come over and cook dinner."

Before the Flying Pig Marathon in his hometown of Cincinnati in May, Manley answered a call for help from Jerry Dunn, a 55-year-old marathon fanatic who ran 200 marathons last year, including Tampa. Dunn wanted a course guide before 14 days of running the Flying Pig course, and he and Manley struck up a friendship.

Dunn suggested Tampa as a prime race for Run for the Lungs and agreed to be the organization's spokesman and coach.

"I saw his passion for it," Dunn said. "And most people here are first-time marathoners, and I get a great deal of satisfaction out of getting someone started. I still know what a great personal achievement it is."

Run for the Lungs, however, is a youngster among established teams. Groups such as Team in Training (benefiting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society) and Joints in Motion (Arthritis Foundation) have taken large contingents to marathons for years.

Team in Training is the largest, with chapters all over the country, including west-central Florida. At its strongest event, the annual Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in San Diego, Team in Training takes 4,000-5,000 people.

Fifty Team in Training runners are expected at the Hops Marathon, and race director Susan Harmeling said 200-300 would have attended if not for travel considerations after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

For now, Run for the Lungs is thinking more modestly.

"We're going to see if there's room for another (team)," Dunn said. "We'll grow it as big as it will get, and if we get to 500-1,000 members, we'll consider ourselves fortunate."

Run for the Lungs requires a $3,000 donation from each runner, from which it provides airfare, lodging, a racing singlet and paid entry. The team plans to expand to allow participants to run any marathon in the continental United States.

But as for Levering, she's happy to run at home. Her employer, Moffett Cancer Center, signed on as co-sponsor for the team in the Hops Marathon, contributing more than $5,000 and holding a free pasta dinner at 5 p.m. Saturday at its research center auditorium (open to the public).

While her run will be bittersweet, she's thankful for the opportunity.

"It's going to be tough to go down on Bayshore. Mom died right at Tampa General," Levering said. "But this little bit I can do is great."

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