By Gwen Romeo
As a staff person for Team In Training (TNT), I come across many inspiring people. It humbles me to witness the sacrifices our participants make in order to train for an endurance event. For those who don’t know, you have to give up a lot of your personal time. Forget Friday nights. And, once you really get into training you can forget about Saturday nights too. None of that matters to some TNT participants; it is all about raising money for a cure and training for something spectacular. The feeling when crossing that finish line means so much more than what it does personally. They have given up their time, their energy, and their hearts; committed all of that to the cause, the mission. They do it because they can; they do it for those who can’t.
The TNT program is a part of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS); it is designed for beginners who complete a five- to six-month training program with certified coaches for endurance events like marathons, half marathons, triathlons, century bike rides, and hiking adventures. In exchange for an expense-free event weekend, participants are asked to raise money toward the LLS mission: to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and myeloma, and to improve the quality of life for patients and their families. Since 1988, TNT has trained over 440,000 participants and raised over $1 billion.
Once in a while a special participant comes along, someone who represents everything we fight for—a blood cancer survivor. Matt Newsom first came to LLS inquiring about how he could get involved. He wanted to share his story with others and help patients through treatment and all that comes with it. Matt had always been a blood donor, and one day in June he was deferred because of a low white blood cell count. He tried again the following month and was deferred again. Just to be safe, he saw his doctor the following Monday to get checked out. The doctor ran some tests and sent Matt on his way. As Matt was leaving the doctor’s office, the nurse ran out to catch up with him and said the doctor needed to see him right away. The next day he was at the oncologist, and by Wednesday Matt was diagnosed with Hairy cell leukemia.
Hairy cell leukemia is a form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). CLL is caused by an abnormal change in a B lymphocyte (a type of white cell). The disease is called hairy cell leukemia because the leukemic lymphocytes have short, thin projections on their surfaces that look like hairs when examined under a microscope. There are an estimated 500 to 800 cases of hairy cell leukemia in the U.S. each year. The good news is the success rate of treatment is high.
I asked Matt to tell his story at our winter season kick-off meeting. By the time he was finished speaking to the group, although he hadn’t planned it, Matt decided he was going to sign up for the Kiawah Marathon in December. As he puts it, “I was inspired by the selfless act that all these people were ready to commit to. I have come to take it personally when everyone shows up to run. I feel like they are doing it for me.”
Matt admits before joining TNT he wasn’t a runner. “The joke was I ran a 10K every 15 years,” Matt says. “Tuesdays and Saturdays are now the highlight of my week.” Matt has a positive energy that is contagious—his coaches and teammates can’t help but feel it. “When you coach a team, the best thing you can have is a member who energizes and encourages others simply with his presence and attitude. Matt is like that; his teammates look at him and they sense that he believes. The team bonds through that spirit of believing and shared accomplishment. Matt is truly a positive force for our team and makes coaching a lot easier,” says TNT coach Jim Carty.
Matt is our motivation, the reason why we join this fight and the reason why we need a cure. Sign up now for Team in Training! We have exciting events and offers for the 2011 season. This is your chance to join the fight in saving lives and have the experience of a lifetime. Check out our website to find your local staff contacts: HYPERLINK "http://www.teamintraining.org/nc" www.teamintraining.org/nc.
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Gwen Romeo is a Campaign Coordinator for Team In Training (TNT) in the Charlotte area. Gwen became involved with TNT in October of 2008 when she completed the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco. Gwen will complete her fourth TNT event and first triathlon next summer. She is inspired and motivated by the volunteers who give their time to make a better life for cancer patients and fund research for a cure. She is thrilled to help others throughout their own TNT journey and watch them go from couch potatoes to endurance warriors!