>Cancer. It’s a dirty word. A “four letter” word. Far too many people are impacted by this disease. Most of us probably know someone who has had cancer. Yet, as ugly a disease as cancer is, the battle against the disease showcases some of the most inspirational folks you’d ever want to meet.
Take, for example, Donna Deegan. Donna is a local newscaster here in Jacksonville. She’s also a wife, mother, author, and marathoner. She qualified & raced the Boston Marathon in 1999. She’s also a three-time breast cancer survivor.
In 2003, Donna founded The Donna Foundation. The goal of this foundation is to support local women (and men) deal with their cancer fight. Her foundation provides funds to help cancer patients deal with everyday life. Four years ago, Donna and her foundation launched 26.2 with Donna – The National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer. It’s a truly unique race – all of the proceeds go directly to the fight against cancer, either through The Donna Foundation or through research at the Mayo Clinic. The race has a stretch that runs on the beach. It’s pancake flat and fast. There are tons of spectators, many of them cancer survivors, lining the course. It’s a “feel good” race – for lots of reasons.
This week’s edition of “Ten Questions With…” showcases Donna Deegan, her foundation, and her marathon.
DD: Balance is the key. First of all, I do things I love and that helps. I enjoy my relationship with the community, my family is too wonderful for words, and running is a great stress reliever. The philanthropy gives me way more than I give it. It’s been a way to put a positive on something that could have been anything but. In terms of practical things, I meditate for an hour each day to put myself in a peaceful place. While I do love my coffee, I try to put things into my body that promote balance and health. For instance, I own a juicer and most every day I juice everything green I can get my hands on and drink it. Most of all, I try to frame each day in love over fear. Some days I am more successful than others, but that’s the journey.
TM: What prompted you to start the Donna Foundation?
DD: When I was writing my blog during the second diagnosis, I started hearing from many women who were going through what I was, only in addition to the stress of their own diagnosis; they were dealing with financial stresses as well. Car payments and mortgages, and child care, and medicines. Things that don’t go away because you’re sick. Many of these women didn’t have insurance either. I decided that with the megaphone I had I needed to do something about it. The Donna Foundation helps local women (and men) with breast cancer who have a financial need, get through to the other side of their treatment so they can focus on getting better and not on just getting by. The Foundation has helped thousands of people and I’m very grateful for that.
TM: How did you land on a marathon as being the signature event for your foundation?
DD: I’m a runner. I’ve always raised money for my Foundation in one way or the other, with running. I met Jeff Galloway one year at the (Gate) River Run (in Jacksonville). He is a 1972 Olympic Marathoner who coaches people all over the world to help them complete a marathon. He suggested coupling our efforts. So at first we just trained people to run other people’s races and then one day I was doing some research and learned there was no marathon for breast cancer. That’s all you needed to tell me. I called Jeff and Dr. Edith Perez at the Mayo Clinic and suggested we start our own race. The rest is history.
TM: To say that the marathon has been a success is an understatement…more than 7000 runners in the inaugural race, close to that in each year since. How big would you like to see this race get?
DD: I knew from the moment the idea came into my head we would be successful. Don’t ask me how, I just wanted it that badly and I could see it as clear as day in front of me. We had about 8000 last year. Our biggest crowd yet. I want to get to 10 thousand and see where that takes us. Ideally, the more people who run, the more money we raise to end this disease and help people living with now. I don’t have a set number in my head but I want the world to come to Jacksonville for our race. We already have runners from every state and several countries. And I think we put on a phenomenal event. It’s all about making people aware you’re out there.
TM: What stands out to you as the most inspirational athlete related story that you’ve heard as a result of your race?
DD: Oh goodness, too many to single out one. We have a number of people who run who are survivors. They are all my inspiration. Then there are those who run for others. They are also an inspiration. That’s what makes this race so special. We’re not out there as individuals; we’re out there with a common purpose that really binds us. It may sound corny, but it’s true.
TM: If you had to convince a runner to do your race versus any other marathon, how would you do that?
DD: Come one time. That’s it. You will be sold. Our course is lined with people who couldn’t be more gracious. People tell me they have never been thanked so often for running. If you look at our reviews they are amazing. There is an essence here you won’t find anywhere else. There’s a love and sense of purpose that simply can’t be found at any other marathon. And we work very hard to make it all about the runners. I think people appreciate that.
TM: What’s the craziest thing that has happened at any of the 26.2 with Donna races?
DD: Pink Spiderman. I love this guy. He appeared on the scene a couple of years ago. Full body pink tights. He raises money as he runs. How can anybody run a whole marathon in full body tights ( and I mean the mask and all). Awesome!
TM: know this year’s race grossed $800,000 for breast cancer research. All told – between the three marathons, the half marathons, the 5k’s and golf tournaments – how much has your foundation raised for the fight against cancer?
DD: I know this will sound like I’m sucking up, but the truth is we couldn’t have done any of it without some pretty dedicated sponsors. They make it possible for us to send a lot of money to the cause. Two million dollars from the marathon related events alone.
TM: What’s next for you and the foundation?
DD: I want to eventually be able to do more for the children of the families we serve through the Foundation. I’d like to establish and endowment fund so that we know we’ll always be here for those who need us. I’m not sure how we will accomplish that. I just know we will.
TM: You’ve run each of the races with your husband, Tim, and each time finished together. As you’ve approached the finish line, have you ever had the urge to pull ahead and “chick” him?
DD: I have a great shirt that says “running shoes $85 dollars… beating your husband to the finish line… priceless”. The truth is Tim could finish this race almost twice in the time it takes me to finish once. He’s very fast. My joke is that he is generally on this third beer by the time I cross the finish line in other races. He is very gracious to run with me in this one. I love crossing the finish line at the exact same moment.
The 4th Annual 26.2 with Donna – The National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer is February 13th, 2001 in Jacksonville, FL. For more information on the race, including details on how to register can be found here: http://www.breastcancermarathon.com/index.php. It’s really a fantastic race – happens to be the only stand-alone marathon I’ve ever run.
You can find more information on The Donna Foundation at this link: http://www.donnahickenfoundation.org/index.html.