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Many marathoners running with a purpose
By Brian Pitts | Daily Herald Correspondent
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Published: 10/12/2008 12:06 AM

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Near the end of her freshman year at Wheeling High School in 1999, Colleen Clyder knew something wasn't right.

Normally a good student, Clyder was having trouble concentrating in school. Her hand would shake when she wrote and her vision was a little fuzzy.

Clyder went to her doctor, who ordered a MRI that revealed she had a life-threatening brain tumor. She underwent emergency surgery to remove the tumor. While the tumor was benign, Clyder still faced a long recovery process from the surgery.

Nine years later, Clyder is a survivor, someone who has battled back from a serious setback to be able to live a normal life. She went on to get her undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois in Urbana and is currently pursuing her master's degree in school psychology at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

Today Clyder works as a school psychology intern at Wheeling High School and will complete her graduate studies next summer. But there are others with brain tumors who have not been so fortunate. Those people will be on her mind when she runs her first marathon today at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

The 24-year-old Clyder will run each mile for someone who has been affected by a brain tumor, including some who have died. She is running with her boyfriend, Jeremy Fischer, and his mom, Donna, who is a 10-year brain tumor survivor, to raise money for the American Brain Tumor Association. Her goal is $2,000 and she had raised about $1,300 at the start of last week.

"I think it is really important to give back and be a symbol of hope to others," Clyder said. "I couldn't take a back seat."

A softball player and cheerleader at Wheeling, Clyder hopes to finish the 26.2-mile course in under five hours. Despite having run a couple of half marathons and trained properly, she admits to being nervous but knows how important it is to raise awareness for this cause.

Cause running, as it has come to be known, has grown at the Chicago Marathon over the years. According to marathon officials, 7,200 charity runners raised more than $10.5 million in 2007 to support a wide variety of causes. By comparison, the 2002 Chicago Marathon raised nearly $3 million.

For 2008, race officials expect to break the 2007 total now that even more charities are involved.

"Cause running continues to move forward and is an important facet of the marathon," said Carey Pinkowski, Chicago Marathon executive race director. "We are hoping to pass last year's goal."

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's "Team In Training" program brought in the highest total last year - a whopping $2.5 million.

Vernon Hills resident Jeanne Lapp and her friend Scott Brown of Deerfield signed on to support that program a few years ago after they both were diagnosed with chronic forms of leukemia. They ran their first marathon together in San Francisco in 2004, a half marathon in May, and will be running their first Chicago Marathon today. Since 2004, they have raised more than $55,000 toward cancer research and patient aid.

Lapp's recovery is a direct result of fundraising. A stem cell transplant from her identical twin sister didn't work, but Gleevec, a drug developed with funding from The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, was able target the cancerous cells and kill them, leaving Lapp's healthy blood cells alone. The advancement saved her life.

"I would not be here today if it were not for the research that is being done," Lapp said. "I run because I can; there are so many people who can't because they are too sick. The research will help save other lives in the future."

Giving back is very important to Gwen Wells of Aurora, too. She will run her third Chicago Marathon in honor of two family members who died from complications caused by multiple myeloma. Wells got into running just two years ago and will run for her sister, Jeneke Lacy, and father-in-law, Harry Wells, to raise money for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. Wells hopes to run four marathons by January 2009 and wants to raise $5,000.

"I want to run to keep their legacies alive," Wells said. "I want to keep running until God says I can't. It's the only thing that I can do."

Cause: Some run in honor of relatives, other to celebrate own life