Sunday, December 30, 2007

"A Marvelous Reason to Run"

Easton runner Don Marvel and his granddaughter Carlie, before Carlie gets into costume for a December 2 production of Brigadoon at Easton High School. Don is running P.F. Chang's Rock and Roll Half-Marathon in Arizona to raise funds as a way to say thank you for Carlie's recovery from leukemia.

Don Marvel is an inspiring individual. His legs and will have done things most humans will never be able to do. But his latest effort is largely a matter of heart. I wrote an article for the Star Democrat, which ran on the front page of today's sports page. I have posted the text of the article below, reprinted with permission. Special thanks to Will Chapman, Assitant Sports Editor there, for pushing to get the article in in a timely manner.

A Marvel-ous Reason to Run
Special to The Sunday Star
December 30, 2007

Few people have run from Easton to Salisbury without stopping. Easton's Don Marvel has made that run a few times.

An ultra-marathon is any race longer than a 26.2-mile marathon. Marvel is an ultra-running legend, winning or finishing in the top two in races of 50 miles, 100 kilometers (62 miles), 100 miles, and 24-hour running events. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Marvel's name sat at or near the top of ultra-marathons across the country.

Most people can't comprehend running 50 or 100 miles. Marvel made headlines by covering them with amazing speed. In 1980, he placed second overall in the New York 100-Miler in a time of 13 hours, 36 minutes, 35 seconds. At the time, it was the fifth fastest time ever run by an American in a 100-mile race.

Marvel won the timed Columbia 24-hour run back-to-back years in 1981-82. The goal is to see how many miles you can run in a 24-hour period. In the 1982 race, he ran 124 miles, coming back to win the race after amassing 100 miles two hours behind the front-runner. In 1981 the race was less contentious, with Marvel running 132 miles for the win in South Carolina.

In 1982, Marvel ran the 60 miles between Philadelphia and Atlantic City faster than anyone else, taking the win and setting the course record in 7:28:09. In 1978, he got lost on the JFK 50-mile course, running an extra mile out of the way, and still placed sixth overall. Marvel's best finish at the JFK the nation's largest and oldest ultra-marathon, held around Hagerstown was third overall in 1981, with a time of 6:22:04.

1981 was a banner year for Marvel. He logged 6,752 miles for the year. If you ran from New York City to Los Angeles, and then back to New York, you would have covered 5,650 miles. Don was ranked sixth in the All-Time U.S. 100-mile rankings that year.

If you ask him what motivated him to run these harrowing distances, Marvel replies that his marathon personal record of 2:39 was too slow to be competitive. Why not just keep running?

These days, Marvel's runs are considerably shorter, competing in races from 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) in length to half-marathons of 13.1 miles. But his reason to run is perhaps even more important than the drive that pushed him to run incredible distances.

For Carlie

Don's granddaughter, Carlie Marvel, is an eighth-grade student at Easton Middle School. She is a singer and an actress, most recently playing "The Widow Ainsley Beaton" in the EMS production of Brigadoon. She plays goalie in field hockey and plays softball. She will be attending Easton High in the fall of 2008.

Carlie is the daughter of Chris (Don's son) and Caryn Marvel. She has two older sisters, Courtnie, a senior at Easton High, Caroline, a sophomore, and a younger sister, Cecily.

In the fall of 2005 and winter of 2006, Carlie's softball pitching arm was getting sore in practices. The soreness continued, so she got it checked out. The diagnosis was unthinkable: chronic myelogenous leukemia. Carlie had fractured her arm. As the result of the cancer she was missing about half the bone marrow in her arm, making it susceptible to injury.

Carlie needed a bone marrow transplant. Thankfully, her younger sister, Cecily, was found to be a perfect bone marrow match for her. While she prepared for the surgery, Carlie was put on a drug called Gleevec, which held the cancer in check.

The transplant was done in June 2006. For the next five weeks, Carlie couldn't eat and had trouble keeping food down. But she kept a positive attitude and focused on what was ahead.

"I wanted to get back to school," says Carlie. "I would just sit in the hospital, bored."

Part of school she thought about was the upcoming production of The Wizard of Oz. "I actually started rehearsing before I could return to school," she says.

She was back to school by November and playing an Ozzian in the play. Like the rest of the cast and crew, she was sad to see the show end.

Carlie's leukemia story is a happy one. Her treatment and recovery had some fortunate factors: her sister being a perfect bone marrow match and undergoing a successful transplant, and having Gleevec available to arrest the disease in the meantime. All of her tests since her treatment have shown Carlie to be leukemia free.

Gleevec and Team-in-Training

The drug Gleevec, which was instrumental in Carlie's treatment, almost didn't exist. The researchers who developed the drug ran out of funding. It was a grant they received from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's "Team In Training" (TNT) program, which enabled them to continue their work and bring Gleevec to market.

Team In Training is a national training program that brings aspiring athletes and mentor/coaches together to help them accomplish their endurance sports goals, while also raising money and awareness for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. According to its website, TNT was founded in 1988 when Bruce Cleland from Rye, N.Y., created a team to train and run in the New York City Marathon, raising funds in honor of Cleland's daughter, Georgia, who was a leukemia survivor. Cleland's team of 38 runners raised $322,000.

Twenty years later, more than 30,000 athletes runners, walkers, cyclists and triathletes will compete in events throughout the world to raise funds for the society. For 2008, one of those athletes is Don Marvel.

Don will run P.F. Chang's Rock and Roll Half-Marathon in Phoenix, Ariz., on Jan. 13, 2008. His reason to run, and his connection to TNT, couldn't be more personal.

"Needless to say, our family feels blessed," says Don. "When a family has been given the gift we have, no contribution seems large enough. I want to do this race to show how grateful I am that Carlie's life was saved."

An Atypical Athlete

Don Marvel is not the standard profile for TNT athletes, many of whom are training to finish their first or longest race. Don's running these days, however, is not without its own challenges.

At 65, and since being diagnosed with heart disease, Don's finishing times have "slowed" to a half-marathon time of just under two hours, and a 5K time of 25 minutes. Slow is relative, as Marvel routinely wins his age group at local races by handy margins. His doctor does not support him running beyond the half-marathon distance.

If the effects of heart disease hadn't challenged him enough, a training injury to his ankle has had Marvel logging miles on his bike more than running during the last month. Still, he is unwavering in his goal.

"I will go to Arizona and finish the race," he says. "I won't run it as fast as I would like to, and I might have to walk some, but I will finish."

We would do well to believe him. This from a man who once ran 132 miles in a 24-hour race. He knows how to will himself across a finish line when his body is uncertain.

Don's athletic accomplishments and his will to compete do not completely overshadow his prowess as a fundraiser for TNT. He has an incredible, personal story to tell. And he has the tenacity that has allowed him to run distances unthinkable to most people. His original stated fundraising goal was $5,000. After eclipsing that mark a few months ago, Don has set a new goal of $10,000. To date, he has raised $9,490.

"I never thought I'd focus so much on fundraising," says Marvel. "But it has become a real challenge, and I spend a lot of time working to raise money for the race and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society."

So how's he doing? According to Damian Magarelli, the Campaign Director and Eastern Shore coordinator for TNT, "Don is the top fundraiser for the Maryland chapter TNT program this season."

A (New) Reason To Run

The intensity and singularity of purpose that Don Marvel has brought to both running and now raising funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society have not wavered through injury or age. Marvel knows his injuries will pass and he still looks forward to runs on Easton's Rails-to-Trails path, which he can pick up from his home.

He also has his new reason to run embodied in his granddaughter, Carlie, and her health, her singing, acting and athletic ability. So what does Carlie think about her grandfather running for her?

"I feel really grateful," says Carlie. "In part because I know first-hand that they really use the money that is donated."

By all counts, a marvelous reason to run.

Getting Involved

On Jan. 13, Don will compete in P.F. Chang's Rock and Roll Half Marathon in Arizona. There are opportunities to get involved with Don's personal journey before then. To make a donation to Don's TNT campaign for Carlie, you can visit his website at Checks made payable to "The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society" can also be sent directly to Marvel at 606 Wayside Avenue, Easton, MD 21601. The deadline for donations is Jan. 3.

If you have ever thought about running or walking a half-marathon or marathon, or competing in an endurance event such as a triathlon or 100-mile century ride, and are interested in training with Team In Training, you can visit their Maryland website at

TNT will be recruiting participants at an information meeting scheduled at the Talbot County Library in Easton on Thursday, Jan. 17, at 6 p.m. and also at the Queen Anne's County Library in Kent Island on Saturday, Jan. 19 at 11 a.m.

And there is information on the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society on their website at

1 comment:

Doug Hanks said...

Great profile!