- Associated Press - Saturday, January 23, 2016

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) - Two years after she started running, Patricia C. Mallios of Worcester went to watch the Boston Marathon in 2014. She was hooked and it became her dream to run it. But the now-32-year-old also knew there was no way she’d meet the 3-hour, 35-minute marathon qualifying time she would need to gain entry into the race.

Crystal J.D. Burt, 32, of Sturbridge had run the Hartford Marathon in October 2013 in what she called “a bucket-list thing.” Despite a grueling finish and vow never to run another marathon, she was eager to apply for entry to the Boston race after the 2013 bombings at the finish line. She, too, wasn’t in qualifying range.

More than 80 percent of the 30,000 official runners who make the Patriot’s Day pilgrimage from Hopkinton to Boston have met stringent qualifying times in a previous marathon. For the majority of the rest, there’s still the chance to run as part of a fundraising charity team with one of the currently 27 Boston Athletic Association official charities or the 144 organizations that receive runners’ bibs through the John Hancock Non-Profit Marathon Program.

Those fundraising efforts are ramping up now, with less than 100 days until the starting gun goes off.

Raising money for a Boston Marathon charity isn’t your typical bake sale. Runners are obligated to raise a minimum of $5,000, and in many of the organizations, at least $7,000 or more, for the opportunity to participate.

It’s no idle commitment. Every charity runner must give a credit card number and is financially liable for the minimum requirement, regardless of what their fundraising efforts actually bring in.

Ms. Mallios, who works as government relations director at the American Heart Association, applied for and was accepted to run on Tedy’s Team for the American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association, which is a B.A.A. official charity. She said the connection was important to her after her father’s death from a heart attack in 2000. She has committed to raise at least $7,000.

“There wouldn’t be a way for me to run this without this opportunity,” she said.

Besides contacting friends and family for donations, Ms. Mallios teamed up with Worcester firefighters to host a charity chili cook-off from 5 to 9 p.m. March 12 at Pepe’s, 274 Franklin St.

Ms. Burt, who works in a home day care and has a 6-year-old daughter, received a number through the Hopkinton-based Greg Hill Foundation, started by the WAAF radio host, which responds immediately to families facing tragedy. Many who have been helped include those affected by the Boston Marathon bombings.

Ms. Burt vows to raise at least $5,000.

“It’s nerve-wracking because there’s this huge potential you’re not going to make it,” Ms. Burt said. “Runners have to make sure they believe in the cause they’re running for.”

This year, she said, she was driven to raise money in memory of Boston Marathon bombing survivor Kevin White, 37, of Bolton, who died in December. Mr. White was involved with the Greg Hill Foundation team after his family received immediate support in 2013 for medical expenses.

The high standard for fundraising has paid off for nonprofits. In 2015, more than 2,600 runners raised $26.2 million for charities through the B.A.A. and John Hancock programs.

“We really think of these like investments,” said Thomas Crohan, assistant vice president and counsel for corporate responsibility and government relations at John Hancock, which since 1986 has been the principal sponsor of the Boston Marathon.

The scarcity of official entry spots and the high demand for what Mr. Crohan called “the Super Bowl of marathons” has allowed nonprofit organizations to leverage their runners’ bibs for the highest fundraising return; higher even than the New York Marathon, which sets a minimum of around $3,000 for charity runners to raise, and the Pan-Mass Challenge bike-ride fundraiser for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which sets minimums of $1,000 to $4,500, depending on which course a cyclist registers for.

“There’s always way more demand than supply,” Mr. Crohan said. “To date, at least from our perspective, we have not seen any (fundraising) fatigue.”

The average John Hancock Non-Profit Marathon Program runner raises close to $10,000.

Mr. Crohan said, “The philanthropic return is greater than the sponsorship cost. It’s something we’re really proud of.”

It’s even competitive for nonprofit organizations to become an official charity partner. Mr. Crohan said that more than 300 organizations apply for entry bibs annually to John Hancock. For the 2016 marathon, the 144 partners were selected based in part on their ability to raise the most money per runner.

The B.A.A. selects a smaller number of charities that can field larger teams and develop their fundraising expertise, according to Executive Director Thomas S. Grilk. He said the two fundraising programs complement each other.

According to Mr. Grilk, the role of the charity program is less to provide a way for entry into the race and more to afford a way for nonprofits to raise as much as they can to do their good works.

“As we produce the marathon, we are mindful of two things: the people who come and run, and the communities we support and who support us,” Mr. Grilk said.

Neither the B.A.A. nor John Hancock receives any portion of the funds raised by partner charities.

The New England Center for Children, a nonprofit school for children with autism, based in Southboro, has raised money as a John Hancock nonprofit partner since 2013. It was a B.A.A. official charity in 2008, 2009 and 2011.

Each of the four runners on the 2016 NECC team is required to raise at least $8,000, according to Rachel L. Norberg, special events manager. Last year the minimum was $7,500 and the school’s five runners raised $42,928.

Ms. Norberg said NECC gives runners a fundraising handbook and teaches them things like how to write compelling emails.

“We give them tips and tricks,” she said. “I’m pretty much on-call for our runners, whatever help they need.”

All the official Boston Marathon charities have campaigns set up on CrowdRise.com, an online platform that makes giving easy and gives donors the choice of paying the 3 percent processing fee, rather than having that deducted from the organization, which Ms. Norberg said, “Ninety-nine percent of people do.”

“I think that it’s definitely a challenge, both training and fundraising for it,” Ms. Norberg said about the marathon. “But I think the people we have chosen to be on our team are extremely passionate about the cause they’re running for.”

John R. Hayes, vice chancellor of advancement at University of Massachusetts Medical School and UMass Memorial Health Care, said after the 2013 marathon bombings, the UMass Memorial Foundation ALS Cellucci Fund got calls from all over the country from runners looking to participate on a charity team.

The Cellucci Fund has been a John Hancock charity since 2012 and has five runners for 2016. Twice as many runners typically apply than the number of bibs the foundation has available.

The minimum fundraising requirement is $7,500, up in the last two years from $6,000.

“We see it as a huge, huge opportunity for us,” Mr. Hayes said. “It’s a way of extending our efforts beyond what we can do on a daily basis.”

Katie D. Friend, community outreach coordinator at UMass, said, “Sometimes the minimum requirement is an obstacle. But most people are really excited.”

In 2015, six runners raised nearly $50,000 for the Cellucci Fund.

Ms. Friend said that among the 33 runners who have participated over the last five years, only two didn’t raise the minimum requirement and were charged for the difference.

“It’s not black or white,” she said, noting that payment plans can be arranged. “It’s definitely a conversation with our runners.”

One of the Cellucci Fund bibs is going to the duo team of Christopher Benyo, 50, who will push his wife, Denise DiMarzo, 53, who is in her fifth year following ALS diagnosis. The couple, who live in Naperville, Illinois, have run eight marathons as a duo, including Boston 2014, with Ms. DiMarzo in a Dick and Rick Hoyt-style wheelchair.

“I ran a lot of marathons before I ran for a charity,” Mr. Benyo said. “There’s nothing better than running for a charity. It’s awesome.”

Mr. Benyo hopes to raise $26,200 for the Cellucci Fund and ALS research in what he said would be his wife’s last Boston Marathon.

Several charity teams have signed up for training and race-day support with the Marathon Coalition, founded eight years ago by longtime running coach Rick Muhr of Grafton.

Mr. Muhr and three assistant coaches hold Saturday training runs on the Heartbreak Hill section of the marathon course in Newton, host a pre-race dinner and race-day home base at a hotel near the finish, and support runners with access to physical therapists and other fitness specialists.

Of the 200 charity runners who participated in the Marathon Coalition last year, 100 percent finished the race.

“Charity runners finish at a higher rate than any other segment, including elite Kenyans,” Mr. Muhr said. “When you’ve had hundreds of people write checks, give you their credit cards, you don’t pull over at Mile 24.”

While a $5,000 minimum is a significant amount of money to raise, Mr. Muhr said, he’s had runners bring in more than $45,000.

“Their marathon journey is about more than finishing the Boston Marathon for themselves,” Mr. Muhr said. “It’s about hope, opportunity, even the gift of life.”


Information from: Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Mass.), https://www.telegram.com

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