Following the fatal bombings at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, “Boston strong” became a guiding chant. For the city. For the 36,000 runners that ran the 26.2 miles on Monday. And for Homer’s Mike Illg.
In October, Illg, who was raised in Boston and is the coordinator of the city of Homer’s Community Recreation Program, announced he was taking on the 2014 event as a fundraising effort for the Children’s Tumor Foundation.
“Specifically, I am running on behalf of an affable, 14-year-old young man, Leo Ogle, for the Children’s Tumor Foundation,” Illg said in a letter inviting others to join in his support of the Homer teenager. At the age of 3, Ogle was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis, also known as NF, a genetic disorder that can cause tumors to develop on the nerves.
On Monday, Illg followed thorough on both commitments. First, wearing bib No. 35638, he finished the 26.2-mile course, with an official time of 4:11:25. Second, Illg not only reached, but exceeded his fundraising goal.
“My goal was $4,000, but I raised just about $4,700,” he said. “And fundraising can continue all through the year. Just because the race is over doesn’t mean we have a cure.”
For Denise Pitzman, Leo’s mother, the meaning of Illg’s commitment was difficult to put into words.
“I can’t even tell you because it’s going to make me cry,” said Pitzman, the emotion evident in her voice. “It just means the world to us that someone goes to this kind of effort.”
Pitzman knows exactly what kind of training is required for long-distance running and the efforts to raise research dollars. She has completed more than 11 marathons in Alaska, Hawaii and Florida through training offered by the Children’s Tumor Foundation, and has lost count of the dollars she has been able to raise in those events. Several years ago, she also began the K-Bay 5K run in Homer as a local fundraiser for NF research.
“I’m tied to this forever,” said Pitzman of helping find a cure for her son’s disorder. “But for someone not affected by it to choose to do this is way bigger than a parent doing it. Way bigger. (Illg) had all the causes in the world he could do, but he picked this one.”
As a result of the experience, Illg now considers himself part of the CTF family.
“I feel very, very honored to do this for Leo and his family,” he said.
Reflecting on his time in Boston, being with his own family and being part of the thousands standing strong in the wake of the tragedy marking last year’s race also was a powerful experience for Illg, who first ran the Boston Marathon in 1999.
“I was so interested in having a good finish time, wanting to beat my old time, but just the whole energy of the race made me realize that wasn’t it. Being there, being part of it, feeling the energy, the concept of running for many, many different reasons, for myself, for Boston, for Leo, for the Children’s Tumor Foundation…it was just a whirl of amazing emotions,” said Illg. “I’ve never experienced anything like that before.”
For more information on the Children’s Tumor Foundation and neurofibromatosis, visit ctf.org.
To donate to Ill’s fundraising effort, visit leosheroes.org.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at email@example.com.