Friday, February 27, 2015

Waiting for Inspiration

Over the course of my six seasons on the DFMC team, I have made an effort to communicate frequently with my contact list of donors. This list is filled with family, friends--new and old, work colleagues--past and present, friends’ of family, friends’ of friends, and even kind and generous strangers. I am in awe of the number of people that support me throughout my training and fundraising endeavors. Many, year after year. Thanks to all of you, I have raised, to date, $66,733.60 toward innovative cancer research for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

My communication is most often in the form of an email letter--one that takes me quite a bit of time to write, edit, read, re-edit, re-read and then finally send. I want my messages to be thoughtful, organized, and engaging and I aim for concise...I really do try. All told, I am usually good for about 5-10 email letters each season.

I spend many miles thinking up things to write about and will often laugh out loud during these mobile brainstorming sessions. This past week, I was thinking that I could write a message about my newly acquired talent of blowing my nose while running without falling. Or how I discern between which ice patches to run around and which to attempt to skate over (I made a bad choice last week...). Last weekend, it was car shopping (I am leaning toward the new Toyota Highlander) and attempting difficult math equations in my head related to work productivity (don’t ask).

Despite being over half way through my training season, I have only written and sent one letter so far. It isn’t because I forgot or can’t think of things to write about. And it certainly isn’t because fundraising means less to me this year than in previous years. I have simply been waiting for inspiration.

Today I was having lunch with a good friend who was telling me about a charity walk she does every year. She simply stated, “This is my thing.” And there it was.

Running for DFMC is MY thing. Every aspect of this experience has meaning for me. I must release a lot of endorphins because running makes me feel great all day. My long runs are meditative--I spent quality time alone thinking, dreaming, planning and reflecting. Every dollar I raise is a tangible representation of my efforts that I can then give back to Dana-Farber. My Dad and I spend precious time together driving from Philadelphia to Boston and back, listening to hours and hours of Willie Nelson. Joining DFMC’s In Memory program 3 years ago has connected me to the Smyths--I run in memory of their son, Jonathan. Jonathan and my mom, Patty are buried two gravestones away from one another in Wadsworth Cemetery in Sudbury, MA.

Most meaningfully, everyday that I am running for DFMC, I am connecting with my Mom who died almost 21 years ago.

I believe that there are no coincidences. The Boston Marathon always occurs within days (and sometimes on the same day) of the anniversary of my mom’s death--April 21st. That night in 1994, after our mom died, my sister, Regan, brother, Sean, and I went for a walk around our neighborhood. With our arms linked, we were in disbelief that Mom was gone, but felt confident that she would keep us close forever. Mom immediately gave us a wink by sending not one, but two shooting stars over our heads. Fast forward two decades, we have all been together in April celebrating Mom at the Finish Line year after year.

I like goals. My first year on the DFMC team, I thought reaching my fundraising goal of $10,000 was a bit lofty, yet I have exceeded that total year after year. While I was sitting at my 2nd pre-race pasta party in 2010, I impulsively announced to my family that my goal was to run for DFMC 5 times. Now that I am gearing up for race #6, my new goal is to continue running for DFMC until my fundraising total has exceeded $100,000.

Thank you for cheering me on along the way!! XO AMY

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Because I Can

Running the Boston Marathon on the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team for the past 5 years in memory of my mom, Patty Shields and my buddy, Jonathan Smyth has added so much depth and meaning to my life.  Year after year, I lace up my sneaks right before Christmas to begin my 18 week training schedule.  Through the winter, often icy, snowy and cold, I hammer away the mileage suggested to train for the 26.2 miles trek to from Hopkinton to Boylston Street. Each time I cross that Finish Line, I am filled with gratitude, excitement, love and pride.  

And the incredible urge to take the next year off.

When the team registration email came my way this September, I passed it over in my inbox.  “This will be such a relaxing winter,” I thought to myself.  Through the early fall, the DFMC team began posting team updates on my Facebook timeline.  I often caught myself looking at the posts with a heavy heart.  “2016,” I reassured myself.  I let Marie, Jonathan’s mom, know of my intentions so that the family could be matched up with another runner this time around.

I really need this year off.  I think.

In November, Katie Smyth--Jonathan’s big sister, my 2014 DFMC teammate but most importantly, my friend--came to Philadelphia to run the Philly Marathon.  We met up for lunch and I listened to her talk excitedly about her place on the 2015 DFMC team.  “So, you are definitely not doing Boston this year,”  Katie asked.  As I said the words, “Yes.  I really need to take a year off,” I was overcome with regret.  

And panic.  What am I doing??  Year off, my foot!  Within 24 hours, with the blessing of my husband, I was in touch with Jan Ross, the team coordinator, and I was back on the team just as the final spots were being filled.

We all spent the summer taking the Ice Bucket Challenge inspired by Pete Frates, a former college athlete now paralyzed by ALS.  In November, I watched an ESPN E:60 special called “Catching Kayla” about Kayla Montgomery, a young female track star suffering from MS who breaks records and then collapses in her coaches arms because running makes her legs numb.  Jonathan Smyth spent 1/2 of his life fighting neuroblastoma rather than playing baseball and golf and watching the Red Sox.

When my mom was 42 years old, she was diagnosed with cancer.  Five years later, she  was gone.  I am 42 years old and I am healthy, strong and CAPABLE.  I have decided that I will run on the DFMC team each and every year because I can.  

Life is too precious and too short to take a year off.

Please consider supporting my run to help me reach my fundraising goal of $15,000!


Wednesday, April 30, 2014


It is hard to believe that the Boston Marathon was over a week ago.  Monday of last week, I was standing nervously in Wave 3, Corral 9 awaiting an 11 am race start.  I had just hugged my Dad and Regan for the last time before I set out to finish what I had started in 2013.  Security was definitely increased for spectators, but it did not impose upon the excitement and enthusiasm that I felt in Hopkinton.

Songs have always played a key role in my running experience.  I am always fine tuning my playlist—adding long forgotten 80s tunes, the newest pop song, or a recommended song that is off the beaten track.   When I was stopped last year at Mile 25.8, the song “I Will Wait,” by Mumford and Sons was blasting in my ears.  That song became very significant over the course of my training.  I would often replay that song over and over again during long runs, envisioning myself crossing the finish line that was nabbed from so many of us in 2013.  I shared in an earlier blog post about the song, “Praise You,” by Fat Boy Slim.  This song has been on my playlist for years and has always felt like a musical high-five from my Mom. 

My music is played on an iPod shuffle.  It is small, it holds all of the songs that I need, and I like how the songs shuffle at random.  It keeps it interesting.  As my Wave slowly approached the Start line, I turned on my music and got into my zone.  I train alone, so running with so many people, although exhilarating, is very distracting.  I turn my music up to tune out the noise and find my rhythm.  The song playing was background noise as I my walking turned to a fast walk to a jog.  With the Start line just feet in front of me, I thought, “This is it.  I am ready.  Go time.”  Song changes.  Random Shuffle:  “I Will Wait,” by Mumford and Sons.

The weather was beautiful, not a cloud in the sky.  Mother Nature hand-delivered the community of Boston the most perfect day for redemption!  From Hopkinton to Ashland to Framingham to Natick to Wellesley to Brookline to Boston, spectators lined the race course donning t-shirts and hats and waving signs reminding us runners what is means to be Boston Strong. 

I am not an elite runner.  I don’t train on the marathon course.  I pound the pavements around my neighborhood, watching my GPS watch calculate my mileage and monitor my pace.  I eat a generally healthy diet.  I don’t drink alcohol.  I drink a lot of water and make sure that I stay hydrated.  No matter how hard I try, I have not cracked the code of this race.  In 2008, I had my best time of 4:28:10.  2010 was more difficult (4:53:52), 2012 was the “hot year,” so my time wasn’t what I had hoped (5:12:48).  2013 was a great run, but I was only able to get a Projected Finish time (4:51:58). 

My number 1 goal of this year’s race was to cross the finish line, but I did have a time goal in the back of my head.  My only strategy was not to run too fast out of the gate.  The DFMC coach Jack Fultz says, “If you think you are running too slow, you are probably running too fast.”  I kept this in mind as I cruised through the first 17 miles of the race.  Mile 18 was a transitional mile up the Newton Hills. I struggled between miles 19 and 23.  It was warm and my thirst could not be quenched.  My energy was zapped.  I walked off and on.  Hugs from Regan and Dad as well as inspirational messages from the crowd kept me moving.

Throughout the run, I would glance up at the beautiful blue sky and think about my mom and Jonathan Smyth.  It is easy to lose focus due to excitement and fatigue.  This race is in memory of Mom,  Jonathan, and those that have fought cancer as hard as they could.  As I approached the 23rd Mile Marker, I looked up and begged for their help.  Song changes.  Random Shuffle:  “Praise You,” by Fat Boy Slim.  You can’t make this stuff up.

Late in the afternoon, I passed by mile 25.8 and  turned the corner from Commonwealth Avenue to Hereford Street.  Up ahead, I saw Regan and Dad, my fearless and committed cheering duo, at the corner of Hereford and Boylston Street.  They were not within arms reach as I made the turn to the final stretch, but we all waved our arms with excitement.  Moments later, I crossed the finish line with a time of 5:06:26 placing 27,772nd overall. 

I am often asked if I am happy with my time.  To be honest, not really.  But this year it doesn’t matter.  I was 6 years younger and 1 child less when I ran my first Boston.  I may never be able to replicate that 4:28:10 time.  This year’s Boston was about completion.  Closure.  Celebration.  My 2014 fundraising total has surpassed $10K thanks to all of you--my goal of $15K is within reach!   My overall DFMC fundraising total is currently $59,563.60.  For this, I am incredibly proud.

I am suffering from a case of PMB—post marathon blues.  I am home from Boston and my siblings.  Dad has returned to Texas.  I am back to work.  Life without training picks up where it left off in December.  Someone suggested that running the Broad Street Run in Philadelphia this weekend would cure my PMB.  You know what, I am good for now.  I will continue to play and replay last week’s experience through my mind.  Until next time.


Friday, April 18, 2014

It's Time

20 years ago this week, I came from college after getting the call from my Dad that it was “time.”  Mom was home with us, resting in a hospital bed in the living room.  Dear friends and family filled the house.  There were a lot of stories, a lot of laughs and many more tears as we all spent our last days with Patty.  On April 21st at 10:45 pm, Mom died peacefully--her hands being held by those that loved her so much.

That night, Regan, Sean, and I went for a walk around the neighborhood, arms linked.  We said confidently that Mom would keep close to one another for the rest of our lives.  After that, we saw two shooting stars.  And, she followed through on her promise.

Mom certainly has her way with messages.  After completing my first AND second Boston Marathons, Mom treated me to a beautiful rainbow spanning the sky.  Mom’s wink to me.

Today, 20 years later, I am up early.  I slept restlessly, looking at the clock off and on since 3 am.  Again, it is “time.”  I am headed up to Boston.  

Unlike 20 years ago, I am anticipating this trip with enormous excitement.  On Monday, April 21st, I will be taking on my 5th Boston Marathon in memory of Patty.  Last year, I picked up a new buddy to honor, Jonathan Smyth.  Jonathan and Patty are buried 2 headstones apart in Wadsworth Cemetery in Sudbury, MA.  

Mom and Jonathan fought the good fight against cancer with the help of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.  As part of the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team for 5 race seasons, I have raised over $50,000 (and counting...).  For this, I am immensely proud.

If you have contributed this year or in the past, Thank You.  Keep me in your thoughts and prayers on Monday.  My bib # is 26821 in you feel so inclined to track my progress.  

Friday, April 4, 2014

Boston College: My experience

After my graduation from Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School in 1990, I started my college career at Boston College.  It wasn’t without great debate.  I had my heart set on a university that I didn’t get into.  Then, I sent my deposit to another university that was out of state.  After a few weeks, I chickened out about going out of state and was able to secure my spot at BC.  I was pleased with this outcome and felt good to be attending school with a number of my friends from L-S.

Boston College is a very popular school and has often been challenged to accommodate its entire freshman class with on-campus housing.  I am not sure what the story is now, but back in my day if your family home was within a 30-mile radius of campus, you were not given priority for on campus housing.  Our alternatives were to commute from home or to live in an off-campus apartment.  Since commuting from home did not sound like very much fun, I elected to shack up with my dear L-S friend, Erica Verville Mawn.

Erica and I found a great 3-bedroom apartment on Crosby Road, a side street adjacent to campus.  We were able to secure other freshman roommates, most importantly our forever-friend-to-be, Heidi Burr Thomas.  By the time school started, Crosby Road was fully rented, furnished and ready to go!

Freshman year is a big transition for most 18-year-olds and it certainly was for me.  Living off campus was not all it was cracked up to be.  Despite having off-campus friends in other apartments in the area, my Crosby Road roomies and I felt out of the loop from the other on-campus freshman and found it challenging to make important early connections.  Even though my family was 45 minutes away, I was homesick.  For better or for worse, I made many trips to and from Sudbury which may have affected my ability to settle in to my new college home.  And I certainly wasn’t killing it academically.

The long and the short of it is…BC just wasn’t for me.  Or Erica.  Or Heidi.  Once the doors closed at Crosby Road after freshman year, we all eventually found different alma maters for which we were better suited and were better suited for us.  I definitely left BC with a bad taste in my mouth. 

When I ran my first Boston Marathon in 2008, I was unfamiliar with the race route as I hadn’t lived in MA for over 15 years.  I knew it started in Hopkinton and ended on Boylston Street in Boston, but had little awareness about what I would pass on my way.  As I trotted along, I recognized different spots and landmarks.  The Framingham train station.  Speen Street in Natick. The Gap in downtown Wellesley.  As I got closer to Newton and turned onto Commonwealth Avenue, a pit grew in my stomach as this is the road I traveled so many times from BC to home and back again.

Commonwealth Avenue (Comm. Ave.) is also home to the Boston Marathon’s infamous Heartbreak Hill.  It is the last of Newton’s four hills, which begin at mile 16 and end at mile 22.  I had been anticipating these hills with much anxiety.  It’s not that I am uncomfortable with hills--I run a lot of hills throughout my training.  But tackling hills this far into a run is a challenge.  I put my head down and eyes to the ground; not daring to look ahead for fear that the hills would never come to an end. 

Finally the pavement flattened out.  Spectators were wildly cheering and waving signs saying, “You’ve reached the top!”  I raised my head and wouldn’t you know it?  I was smack dab in the center of Boston College.  I passed the Crosby Road street sign.  I saw the prestigious campus to my right.  I saw thousands of enthusiastic BC Eagles enjoying themselves on the sidelines. I had made it!  Relief.  Pride.  Satisfaction. 

I have run this race 4 (almost 5) times.  I am now familiar with the course and know what to expect along the way.  I can anticipate the parts of the run that are harder for me than others.  Now, when I turn on to Comm. Ave., I am filled with determination and adrenaline, not sour feelings and dread.  For the first time in 20 years, Boston College brings me feelings of great joy and accomplishment!  In the language of social media, I “like,” BC.  (Thumbs up emoticon).

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Praise You.

This year will be the 20th anniversary of my mom’s death.  Amazingly enough, it falls on the same day as the 2014 Boston Marathon--April 21st.  Over the past 20 years, I have had many instances when I feel certain that my mom is present.  Too many to count.  Sometimes it is in the form of dreams. Sometimes it is a strong feeling in my stomach. Other times, it happens when I hear a particular song.  

Whenever the song “Praise You” by Fat Boy Slim plays when I am running, I feel like my mom and I are giving each other high fives.  The chorus goes like this:  “We've come a long long way together, through the hard times and the good. I have to celebrate you baby, I have to praise you like I should.”  I feel like she is saying this to me and I feel like I am saying it to her.  

Living almost half of my life with out her has been quite an adventure.  MANY bumps in the road.  Lots of tears and heartache.  But somehow, I have gotten myself to the age of 41--married, three kids, great job--so much to be grateful for.  When I hear that song, I think she is saying, “Way to go, Aim!” 

When I listen to that song, I also think of my mom’s life experience.  She lived a full, rich life before her death at age 47.  She and my Dad celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary just weeks before she died.  She has 3 amazing kids who love each other dearly.  She has so many people that care about her--friends who have become such important people in my life.  It makes me sad to think about what she has missed out on over the past 20 years.  Weddings, grandchildren, retirement.  Life.

For these reasons, I want to Praise her like I should.


Friday, March 14, 2014

All Running...All of the Time

A friend just asked me what I was doing this weekend.  My answer—running. 

Really, that’s about it.  Oh, and napping.  I am in the thick of my training.  Every weekend for the next few weeks, I will be running back-to-back long runs.  This weekend, I will run 12 miles Saturday and 14 miles Sunday.  Training reaches its peak the weekend of 3/29, when my longest run is 22 miles.
Training for a marathon really is a part-time job.  Thankfully I have a cooperative, supportive family that puts up with me while I am gone running for hours and then gone for a few more hours napping.

I wanted share two entries from my blog last year.  Enjoy!

 Here are 10 things that you may not have known about my mom, Patty Shields.

10. Patty always wanted to be an archeologist.

9. Patty liked to eat vanilla ice cream out of a cantaloupe.

8. Patty loved Laura Ashley.

7. Patty did not like roller coasters, but liked rides that spun.

6. Patty wanted a shamrock tattoo.

5. Patty liked black licorice.

4. Patty and I loved to watch Days of Our Lives.

3. Patty loved going to the movies.

2. One of Patty’s favorite flowers was the daisy.

1. Mom always encouraged me to “Just Do It.”

Here are 10 important things to know about Jonathan (courtesy of his mom, Marie Smyth):

1. Jonathan loved Legos. 

2. Jonathan was featured in an issue of Lego Mania Magazine.

3. Jonathan loved fried clam strips at Nancy's on the dock in Oak Bluffs, MA. on Martha's Vineyard.

4. Jonathan had a cute little beauty mark on the left side of his head that you could only see when he lost all of his hair during chemotherapy.

5. Jonathan loved golf and baseball and was a Red Sox fan.

6. Jonathan posed swinging a golf club on a brochure for the Jimmy Fund golf tournaments.

7. Jonathan loved watching Nickelodeon and especially the show "Rugrats".

8. Jonathan was born on May 4, 1990, weighed 7 pounds, 9 ounces and was 21 inches.

9. Jonathan loved beanie babies, trucks, race cars, and drawing pictures of sharks and rockets.

10. Jonathan and his mom rescued a baby snapping turtle from a Dunkin Donuts parking lot.  Jonathan named him "Little Dude". Little Dude lived in a tank during the winter in Jonathan's first grade classroom as their class pet. In the spring, Little Dude was released to the pond behind our house in Sudbury. Mom says she thinks they saw him a few times over the years after his release.