Two weeks after Julie Weber’s daughter, Kaelyn, was born, the infant was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.
Two years after that, Ms. Weber and her husband began looking into the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and its Great Strides walk, which raises funds in an effort to find a cure for the disease.
Now 8, Kaelyn is in her third year participating in the Pittsburgh Kids Marathon, scheduled for Saturday, and Ms. Weber is training for her fifth consecutive Pittsburgh Half Marathon, to be held Sunday.
About 180 runners will run in the Pittsburgh Marathon itself on Sunday in the name of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation — many of them dedicating their time in the name of a loved one. They aim to boost awareness of the disease, Ms. Weber said, but hope to raise money for an even bigger goal.
“I’m doing it for Kaelyn,” she said. “And just to be able to cross that finish line and accomplish the race itself, physically, in the back of my mind, the other finish line I’m hoping that we’ll cross soon is a cure for cystic fibrosis.”
By the end of the 2017 Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon, the race will have helped raise $10 million since its relaunch in 2009 under Dick’s sponsorship, with 90 percent of those funds supporting the Pittsburgh community. With more than 100 participating causes, many of them local charities, the race raised $250,000 in 2009 and reached $9,183,682 after 2016’s marathon.
“I think that it’s a really important part of what we do at the marathon,” CEO Patrice Matamoros said. “I think that the marathon can be used as a platform, as a sales tool, to do really good things. And that’s represented in the over 100 charities that are involved in the program, and that money really, for the most part, is staying in the Pittsburgh community.”
Much of the money comes from charities signing up and recruiting runners, using the marathon as a sales pitch. Race fees that runners pay go back into the infrastructure of the race, with some funds allocated to marathon programs such as Kids of STEEL, which aims to help underprivileged children get involved in the race.
“That’s what people don’t understand when they register,” Ms. Matamoros said. “All of those expenses are spent: their shirt, their medal, road closures, contracted police officers, tenting — all of that just goes right back.”
Ten dollars can filter back into the city by providing one children’s book at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh or providing a toy for the Mario Lemieux Foundation. Scale that to $10 million, and the Pittsburgh Marathon is often the largest fundraiser for local organizations.
In the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s case, most of its money raised goes toward medical research and developing new drugs to combat the disease. The foundation does not receive federal funding, relying instead on donations from corporations and individuals.
The CFF hopes to raise $170,000 through the Pittsburgh Marathon, according to Lauren DiMaria, who directed the cystic fibrosis run team the past four years.
“It’s been really great for our organization to not have to worry about the logistics of an event, but to just focus on recruiting runners and working with them and their goals, both fundraising and philanthropic,” Ms. DiMaria said.
Exercise is important for people with cystic fibrosis, as the disease affects lung function. Several CFF runners have the disease and train for the marathon even when circumstances aren’t ideal, Ms. DiMaria said.
Seeing people with cystic fibrosis, some of whom run with a catheter line inserted into their vein, boosts her motivation to run for the cause.
“It’s the best motivation I can think of,” Ms. DiMaria said. “On the days in Pittsburgh when it’s snowing outside, and it might be a little icy and you’re tired and maybe it’s a Sunday and you don’t want to get out of bed, you know that there is a runner that is out there pushing themselves when they really don’t feel good.”
Another large participating organization, Paws over Pittsburgh with Animal Rescue, sees the Pittsburgh Marathon as chance to motivate participants. According to chief marketing officer Ann Yeager, it’s because the money they spend on registration rates or raise as runners goes to a good cause of their choice.
Ms. Yeager hears from runners who find the energy to train because they’re running for more than just a little cardio.
“It comes time to get out of bed, and it’s 4 a.m., and she’s like ‘Ugh.’ And she decides not to do it,” Ms. Yeager said. “So she said now it gives her motivation, because she’s doing it for the animals, to get up in the morning and go run it. Because if she doesn’t, she feels like she’s disappointing the animals.”
Paws over Pittsburgh estimates it will have 300 to 400 runners this year and expects to raise $125,000 to $150,000. In its first marathon seven years ago, the team started with 32 runners and raised $9,000, Ms. Yeager said.
“That first year, we were like, ‘Oh, we did really well.’ And here we are,” she said. “We’ve really grown.”
The money Animal Rescue raises helps keep its clinics’ costs low for the general public, and it keeps spay and neuter costs at affordable rates. It also helps with adoption fees and giving extra medical attention to animals in need.
Sarah K. Spencer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @sarah_k_spence.
By Sarah K. Spencer / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette