Georgia Cleland was a major catalyst for the shift in endurance athletes competing for reasons far beyond themselves. At 2 years old, she had acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and a 55 percent chance of surviving, so her father, Bruce, launched Team in Training in 1988, and utilized the New York City Marathon to raise funds for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) in honor of his daughter.
Now three decades later, the story comes full circle. Georgia completed the Walt Disney World Marathon on Jan. 7, her first marathon, to honor her father.
“The one thing we always said in my family was, no matter what, keep on fighting. Stay strong—we’re all in this together,” Georgia told Runner’s World. “I always admired so much what my dad did, and I wanted to put myself in his shoes to see what running a marathon would be like. It was absolutely phenomenal.”
After two years of intense chemotherapy, Georgia went into remission. That’s when Bruce gathered a team of 38 runners for the 1988 New York City Marathon to raise money for LLS. At the time, it was the first charity team to participate in this type of event, and they ended up raising an incredible $322,000 for research to fight blood cancers.
Thirty years later, Team in Training has raised more than $1.5 billion for the cause and has a mighty force of 650,000 athletes on the team.
“This impactful fundraising program has helped LLS invest more than $1 billion in breakthrough research to advance lifesaving treatments, including breakthrough therapies such as CAR T-cell immunotherapy and recent drug approvals for myeloma and acute myeloid leukemia (AML),” said LLS president and CEO Louis J. DeGennaro, Ph.D. “Team In Training reflects the entrepreneurial spirit of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society – we are fighting cancer as a team.”
But, back to Georgia, who works as a campaign assistant at LLS in Maryland. After finishing the Disney Half Marathon in 2012, running a full marathon fell on her radar. So, she enlisted the help of Jonathan Wilson, a colleague who helped her train for the half. Together, they started logging miles in August.
“At no point during our training was there a time that Georgia thought she could not do it,” Wilson told Runner’s World.
And after seven hours on the course, that belief carried her 26.2 miles to the Disney finish.
Way to go, Georgia, and way to go, Bruce. What a team.