When Melissa Preston was 12, her best friend died from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“My whole life I wanted to do something [to honor Gary's life], but I didn’t really know what it was,” she says.
Then she started running to get in shape and Preston found the answer: she was going to run 52 5Ks in one year, matching each entry fee with a donation to the American Cancer Society.
Twelve months later, Preston has completed 38 5Ks and raised $11,087—well over the goal she set of $10,000. With friends and supporters following her on Facebook, Preston runs each race in honor of a different person who has battled cancer.
“It hasn’t been terribly hard to find honorees,” Preston says, ruefully. She ran through members of her family and friends first, then honorees requested by people she’s met at races throughout the year.
“Occasionally I’ll find a local hero,” she says.
Preston will run her last race this Dec. 15 in Chicago, in honor of someone she never expected to have cancer: her boyfriend, Gordon Carter. Halfway through her schedule of races, in late May, Preston learned that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“The irony was crazy,” says Preston, who was living in Virginia at the time. “I immediately went into reactionary mode.”
She had been planning to eventually move to Evanston, where Carter lives, but the diagnosis spurred her into action. She requested a transfer to her company’s Lake Forest office, packed up her belongings and moved across the country.
One week after she arrived, Carter underwent surgery. Doctors say they believed the cancer was successfully removed, and he did not have to undergo chemotherapy.
“All things considered, we could not be luckier,” says Preston.
But the diagnosis shook her. The more she talked to friends and family, the more difficult it was to face the reality of the uphill journey they were about to face.
Although Carter ran races with her before he was diagnosed, he’s had to cut back, but plans to enter his first 5k post-surgery this weekend. He’s still her biggest fan, however, creating drawings to post on her Facebook page, “52 5ks For a Cure.” Each week, a stick figure version of Preston appears, wearing a sombrero or carrying a balloon, depending on where she’s running, a different theme for each race.
Preston has scheduled her races wherever she’s traveling. Her roster includes 11 states, two countries and the District of Columbia. When friends got married, she organized “wedding marches” in Tahoe and Ireland.
After she runs her last 5K this December, Preston has no plans to stop running or fundraising. In fact, she wants to take it bigger. She hopes to work with the Chicago chapter of the American Cancer Society and bring 52 runners together to raise $52,000.
So, could this be an annual tradition for runners around the country?
“I would love to do nothing more than to raise a ton of money,” she says. “I think next year will be really telling.”
If you’d like to support Preston, visit her fundraising website at https://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/melissapreston/525ksforacure-2012