ALS Cellucci Fund Marathoners Hope to Raise $50K

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by Mary Chapman |

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ALS Cellucci Fund team

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It’s been a decade since the first UMass ALS Cellucci Fund team first participated in the Boston Marathon to raise funds to support University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) researchers in their quest to find better treatments for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). So, this year is significant.

The 125th running of the historic marathon will be held Oct. 11. It was moved from its traditional April date due to the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines.

“This is a monumental year because it is the 10th anniversary of the UMass ALS Cellucci Fund team participating in the Boston Marathon,” Julie Bowditch, manager of community fundraising in the UMMS Office of Advancement, said in a press release. “Also, we are running the Boston Marathon the only time it is being held live in October.”

For this anniversary, five runners will seek to raise $50,000 to help Robert H. Brown Jr. MD, PhD, and his colleagues make progress against ALS. Brown is the Leo P. and Theresa M. LaChance Chair in Medical Research and neurology professor. As of late July, that goal was already halfway accomplished. Each runner has pledged to raise at least $7,500.

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Since 2011, some 50 people have joined the UMass ALS Cellucci Fund marathon team through the John Hancock Marathon Non-Profit Program, which provides bibs to nonprofit groups. To date, these runners have raised more than $500,000. The marathon team’s contributions are part of more than $5.2 million that’s been raised to help Brown and his team.

Runners this year will include return participant Todd Brisky, Carol Castiglia, Heather Forchilli, Scott Ober, and Vinay Sampson.

Throughout the years, many runners have had a family member or friend with the progressive neurodegenerative condition. Sampson, 55, lost his brother, Vidyasagar, to ALS in 2015, at age 59.

“I would say he was my hero, so that’s what motivated me,” said Sampson, a  Connecticut resident who grew up in India in a family of nine children. “He encouraged us to be active, to pursue [our] dreams, and he did everything to make our paths easier than his own.”

While growing up, Sampson played basketball and eventually became a coach. He later did work with the YMCA.

“The reason I started running about six years ago was to be healthy and a role model for my girls,” added Sampson, who has run six marathons, but not in Boston. “I want my girls to know that if they put their minds to something, they can accomplish anything.”

As for Forchilli, her stepfather’s mother died from ALS in 2012. Before her diagnosis, Ellen had been an avid traveler who loved to hike mountains. “She said she felt so blessed that she was able to do all those things while she could,” said Forchilli, 30, of Worcester, Massachusetts. She began running four years ago to improve her health.

“And for her to have such a positive attitude when a diagnosis like that comes, it just blew my mind. It was part of my epiphany that the key to happiness, to a successful life, is a positive attitude,” Forchilli added.

Injecting a little levity into a very serious cause, Forchilli added a costume challenge to her ALS Cellucci Fund fundraising: the highest donor for a given week gets to pick her apparel for her weekend training run. To date, she’s run as a Black Widow, Queen of Hearts, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The team’s namesake is the late governor of Massachusetts and ambassador to Canada, A. Paul Cellucci, who was diagnosed with ALS and treated by Brown.