- The Washington Times - Friday, October 24, 2003

The discomfort Karen Collins will feel tomorrow during the grueling six hours of running and walking in the Marine Corps Marathon will pale in comparison to the pain her 13-year-old daughter Katie has endured for the past 2-1/2 years.

Collins is running to raise funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, a group that has been a huge part of her life since Jan.18, 2001. That’s the day Katie was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

“It is so hard as a mother to watch your child in pain and not be able to fix it,” Collins said of the excruciating sessions of chemotherapy Katie has undergone. “Knowing what she was going through.”

Fortunately, the cancer in Katie’s bone marrow was discovered early and her form of leukemia known as ALL is reportedly the most curable. In fact, Katie finished her chemotherapy in July and her tests prove she is in remission. Nevertheless, Katie’s diagnosis changed the lives of both mother and daughter, including making the former a marathoner.

Collins, who lives in Springfield, was a 15-year-old living in Northern Virginia when the first Marine Corps Marathon ran through the streets of the District

“I was born in Vienna and grew up in this area,” said the 43-year-old single mother of four. “I remember as a kid watching the news clips of the marathon on television and saying, ‘That’s really cool but I’d never do it.’ I made it through gym class only because I had a clean uniform.”

Yet tomorrow, Collins is attempting her second 26.2-mile trek around Washington’s historic monuments. She completed in the 2002 Marine Corps.

So how did this happen?

After Katie’s diagnosis, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society contacted Collins to provide support. In a chance meeting at the doctor’s office, Collins had a conversation with a leukemia patient’s mother who participated in one of the society’s many fundraising distance runs through its Team in Training (TNT) program.

“She said she had done one event,” Collins said. “That sounded kind of cool. If there was any way I was going to do it, it would be through this training program. I never would have done it on my own.”

She will be one of 610 purple-clad participants from TNT among the 18,000 entrants in the marathon. TNT has raised $1.8 million this year.

Washington’s Demetri Datch, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma — a blood cancer — at age 15 and now at age 27 will attempt his first marathon, is also running for TNT.

Since its inception in 1988, TNT counts 190,000 participants who have helped raise more than $430 million to help the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society advance its mission.

For Collins, being a part of TNT was not only an opportunity for her to give back financially to cancer research — athletes typically raise a minimum of $1,700 apiece — but also as a way to recognize her daughter for a courageous struggle.

“I’m doing it for my daughter and I hope we are inspiring others,” said Collins. “Research is what got my daughter through this.”

Said David Timko, executive director of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s National Capital Chapter: “Today there’s an 85 percent chance children with Katie’s form of leukemia will survive, while 40 years ago, only 4 percent of them survived.”

With the aid of a coach and a bevy of supportive fellow runners, Collins started her training in June 2002 for that year’s Marine Corps Marathon. She said she usually trained four days a week on her own then joined a group run on Saturdays that included runs on the C&O; Canal towpath, W&OD; bicycle trail and the Mount Vernon trail.

Once she crossed the finish line at Iwo Jima Memorial last year, she was hooked. “There was no question I would finish,” said Collins, who finished with a time of 6 hours, 20 minutes. “My kids were waiting at the finish line. They were so excited. I was crying because I was so happy and they were saying ‘Mom, why are you crying?’ It was so much fun last year.”

She started her marathon training mode in June again this year and tackled the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half-Marathon in Virginia Beach Labor Day weekend with her TNT group.

This year, Katie is part of the team, too. She is considered an “honored teammate,” chosen by the society from the chemotherapy patients and survivors to act as goodwill ambassadors. Her role is to assist at practices, but she wanted to do more. Katie entered the children’s one-mile fun run which is part of the marathon’s festivities today at the Iwo Jima Memorial.

“She is very excited to do the kids’ race,” Collins said. “It’s her very first race. She has done some of the training runs with me, like for two miles. Sometimes she has to stop and catch me on the way back. It’s bugging her that she doesn’t have her endurance back.”

A bicyclist and swimming enthusiast, Katie’s goal is to run a triathlon someday, with TNT of course.

After tomorrow’s marathon, Collins will be looking toward her third marathon, next year with TNT in Dublin, Ireland.

Now her marathon career rests with a mandate from Katie.

“Katie challenged me — every year she is cancer free, I have to run a marathon,” Collins said.

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