Alex Saunders

Marathon to a Cure

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Thursday January 26, 2017

Alex Saunders will be running the London Marathon this April as part of the MS-UK charity team dedicated to research and improving the lives of people with multiple sclerosis (MS). For the past nine years, the London Marathon has been the largest annual fundraising event in the world. Last year, charity runners in the London Marathon raised over $54 million to support noteworthy causes like MS-UK. Saunders says participating in the event, her first marathon, ties together two things that are important to her, helping others and running.

Saunders is a graduate of South Burlington High School (SBHS) class of 2011 and Middlebury College class of 2015. She says her love of running dates back to her time at SBHS, where she participated in a variety of sports, including the women’s varsity cross country running team and outdoor track and field. Saunders heard about the London Marathon from her friend and former co-worker, who ran the marathon last year with the MS-UK team. “I was drawn to the cause because I wanted to really invest myself in a charity, and I also wanted to run a marathon. I liked the idea that as my training progresses and I get stronger and am able to run further, the money that I raise will also be growing.”

Nearly five weeks into her 18-week training plan, Saunders runs five days per week, with long runs on Sundays. She says, “Other than the training I did when running on the cross country team at SBHS, I’ve never trained for a race before, but I do run regularly.” Along with her own personal running schedule, Saunders also joined a running club each Wednesday evening and says she plans to join a second club on Thursday evenings, reporting, “I like running with others, as it pushes me to go faster than I would if I was alone, and I enjoy the company. In fact, the folks at Run Club are the reason I’m running a marathon! I never thought I would run one, but many people in my club have, and have such great things to say about it!”

Saunders reports that the long training runs can be daunting, “I don’t always feel like running 10 to 14 miles on a Sunday, so I can’t imagine what it will be like to have to run over 20!” Having recently moved to Boston, where she works for a small healthcare tech startup company, she notes the winter weather adds other challenges to training, “I’ve been pretty lucky so far since it has been fairly warm this season.”

Although Saunders is looking forward to the achievement of reaching her goal of running a marathon, she is quick to add, “My top priority is to make a difference in the MS community by increasing awareness about MS and by raising money for MS-UK, a cause I am very passionate about.” However, that goal has proved even more challenging than the training. “Honestly, the most stressful part for me at the moment is the fundraising- I know I will be able to run a marathon, but I’m not at all sure I can raise 4000 pounds,” says Saunders.

With over $600 raised of the close to $5,000 goal, part of Saunders’ training schedule is time dedicated to fundraising. The runner comes with experience though, having helped raised $12,000 for her friend, and fellow SBHS student, Stefan Pierson, who was battling bone cancer. “Now I work with his family to continue fundraising; our organization is called Conquer the Day - The Stefan Pierson Foundation.” In memory of Pierson, the foundation’s goal is “to provide support to young adults, between the ages of 18 to 25, who are battling cancer, to give them the opportunity to conquer the day, living life to the fullest and positively impacting those around them.”

When asked who are her biggest supporters in this ambitious endeavor, Saunders easily responds, “My fellow run club members, who always check up and ask me how my training is going, or if I need a buddy for my long Sunday runs. My roommate is also one of my biggest supporters, as she knows what runs I have coming up, checks my fundraising page as often as I do, and is coming with me on the trip to cheer me on. My family and friends are also great supporters of my running and my fundraising!”

Saunders’ efforts to collect donations will continue along with her training. “The funds I have raised so far are donations from friends and family, but I have some fundraising ideas like a raffle and selling baked goods for Valentine’s Day.” She also is able to receive donations through the London Marathon fundraising page Virgin Money Giving where supporters can enter her name, Alex Saunders, to help reach her goal of raising money for MS.

A degenerative disease that affects over 2.3 million people worldwide, MS causes the loss of myelin in the central nervous system, which disrupts the ability of nerves to conduct electrical impulses to and from the brain. Its cause is unknown and the progression of the disease can be unpredictable. Over 400,000 Americans are affected by MS, and about 20,000 people die from MS each year. There is no known cure for MS at this time, though medications can help slow the progression of the disease and manage symptoms. Supporting organizations like MS-UK helps researchers find a cure.

Meanwhile, Saunders will keep running and working towards her goal of helping others. In true form, she mentions, “Right now, I’m doing a 30-day New Year’s resolution challenge and my resolution is to do something nice for someone every day, for example give a meal to a homeless person, send a card to my grandparents, buy a surprise treat for my roommate, etc.” A challenge fitting for everyone, marathon-runners or not.