Southport man had high stakes in tackling Boston Marathon
For this marathon man, the grueling 26.2-mile race was about a lot more than running.
Southport resident Jack Griffin, president of the Meredith National Media Group, which oversees such publications at Better Homes & Gardens, Family Circle, Ladies' Home Journal, Fitness and Parents, completed the Boston Marathon last week with a respectable time of 4:19:48. (The winning time was just over 2 hours by an elite Kenyan runner.)
But were it not for his brother, the soon-to-be 50-year-old surmises he would have quit around mile 17, often referred to as the start of "Heartbreak Hill." Griffin's brother Steve was diagnosed with stage four cancer last summer. Griffin was initially going to run the marathon just for himself. Having recovered from a fibula and tibia break -- suffering while playing hockey -- that kept him sidelined nearly two years, he entered a Fairfield half-marathon last June and registered a decent time.
Having run marathons before, he decided to challenge himself to a full 26.2 miles once again. It was around the same time that he got the news about his brother. The training, the race, would no longer be about himself. The goal became raising money for cancer research. He pledged that all money raised would be donated to the Dana Farber Cancer Research Institute in Boston, where his brother is being treated.
Griffin's initial fundraising goal was $26,200 ($1,000 for each mile of the race). However, he had to bump up his goal as he reached that amount with no trouble at all. And so he kept raising funds, and along the way, still training, Haiti was rocked by earthquakes. Inspired to help, Griffin made a promise that whatever he raised for the cancer institute, he would give a matching donation -- out of his own pocket -- to the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) emergency fund for Haiti. Griffin proved nearly too successful as a fund-raiser. He'll be cutting CRS a check for more than $60,000.
Did he ever imagine he'd raise that much?
"Not in my wildest dreams," he said. "The response has been unbelievable. It's close to a record."
Griffin said his brother's stage four cancer diagnosis came as a total shock.
"He had no symptoms like a lot of people," he said. "He seemed to be fine." And Steve wasn't one of those men who avoids the doctor's office like the plaque. He got regular check-ups, yet his doctor didn't spot the cancer until last summer.
"It's a mystery and it's very sad," said Griffin, who refers to himself and Steve as Irish twins (when siblings are born within a year of one another).
Steve lives on, but it's a fight. Griffin credits the Dana Farber staff with giving his brother tremendous care.
"They saved his life a couple of times," he said. "The first time, he developed a terrible infection which triggered all sorts of maladies. He had to be Medi-Vac'd from Cape Cod to Dana Farber. The second time, he was rushed by ambulance. Radiation he had created a blockage that made him septic. He had complications that required emergency surgery. He battled serious life-threatening infections. They did unbelievable work to pull him through that."
Running to benefit Dana Farber was the least Griffin said he could do to pay the cancer center back in some small way. It was a challenge, however. He had last run a marathon nearly 10 years ago, at the age of 40. Now closing in on 50 years old, training this time around was definitely harder.
"Plus I had my leg to contend with," Griffin said. Fortunately, the broken leg -- which didn't allow him to really start exercising until a year ago -- never became a factor in the race. Griffin stays trim so there wasn't a ton of weight to lose for the marathon. He estimates he dropped only 10 to 15 pounds while training between November and April. A month out from the race, having up practice runs to 20 miles at a time, Griffin found he could eat anything he wanted and not gain a pound.
"You become like a human furnace," he said.
Griffin said intensive chemotherapy has been keeping Steve "comfortable, keeping the size of the tumors constant."
As much as Steve would have liked to have to have been cheering on his brother somewhere along the race route, it wasn't possible.
"My brother was spending the day at Dana Farber having chemotherapy," Griffin said.
So even though he has laced up the running shoes numerous times before, this time was different.
"You see beyond yourself. In every other road race, you're locked straight ahead and focused on what's the best time I can finish in," he said. "But this one was about what's the most good that can be done."
While Griffin's brother couldn't be join the thousands of other race spectators, one person in the crowd spurred him on -- his 17-year-old son David, a junior at Fairfield Prep.
David hopped a huge barrier "and ran 300 yards with me to the finish line."
"I'll never forget it," Griffin said.
Long before he reached the finish line, he had run about 400 miles to build up for completing the race.
"You have to build endurance, cardiac capacity. Your muscles have to get used to distance," Griffin said.
Griffin started training in November. He endured pouring rain, freezing cold. Whatever winter conditions people saw outside their kitchen or living room window, Griffin was out there, facing Mother Nature head on for his brother.
"Every single impulse in your body says, `I shouldn't be doing this,' " he said. Yet he soldiered on. In fact, he may do the Boston Marathon again, but rather than a 10-year gap again, he's thinking about competing in 2011.
"It's the greatest experience on the planet," Griffin said. "The environment, everybody's equal that day. Everyone is giving their very best. Everybody is running for their own reasons. Everyone's equal. It doesn't matter what you do, how much money you make, what your status is. It's egalitarian. It's a community experience. You see unbelievable acts of courage and determination."
Griffin said both of his sons were supportive of his latest road adventure and "my challenge to them is that should do it someday."