NEW YORK, Jan. 7, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Georgia Cleland, now 28, is the little girl who helped spawn an entire running for charity movement – the largest of its kind in the world. A leukemia patient at age 2, when the chance of survival was just 55 percent, today she ran her first half-marathon with Team In Training, the organization her father founded in her honor 23 years ago. She ran the Walt Disney World half-marathon. Thanks to her father Bruce Cleland's imagination, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team In Training has had a remarkable influence on the world of marathon running and on blood cancer research.
The Cleland Family was busting with pride as they watched Georgia cross the finish line at the Disney Half Marathon. As the inspiration for more than half a million people who've trained with Team In Training over 23 years, Georgia is more than an Honored Teammate, as the charity's poster children are called. She's the catalyst for more than $1.2 billion of research and services for people with blood cancers.
"I've seen many families who've suffered in so many ways because of a blood cancer diagnosis," LLS CEO John Walter said. "The Cleland family transformed the experience into a life-saving, energizing and healthy program for hundreds of thousands. As they look out at the sea of purple running shirts this coming weekend, they'll know that they've made a lasting mark for which we'll be forever grateful."
Twenty-three years ago, Bruce Cleland took the first step as the first marathoner-for-a-cause, as his daughter fought to survive leukemia. His idea – to support leukemia research by raising money and running his first marathon with a team of friends -- inspired a running movement that has touched many, many people. 540,000 runners have now followed in his footsteps and raised $1.2 billion dollars to fund cancer research through The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Early in 1988, Cleland, of Towson, MD, had a brainstorm of an idea. He gathered his friends and colleagues and, inspired by his mission, they trained together to run the New York City marathon on November 6, 1988. Each had gotten pledges from people they knew, raising an unexpected $320,000 for blood cancer research. Despite being in his forties and suffering from a bad knee, Cleland, who lived in Rye, NY, at the time, asked his friend and fellow New Zealand native, Rod Dixon (Olympian and winner of the 1983 NYC Marathon) to train the group of 32 novice runners. The group successfully completed the marathon in honor of Cleland's 5-year-old daughter Georgia, who had just completed two years of treatment for leukemia. They donated the money to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, which then asked Cleland to help replicate the "Team In Training" idea for its chapters across the country. And thus, the 'fund-racing' model was born. Team In Training has become the largest endurance-training program in the world, and its success – now broadened to triathlons and century rides – has been a big part of the surge in endurance sports over the past decade.
Cleland had unknowingly tapped into a crucial dynamic: "There were two things that made it work," he said. "We connected it to a cause we were passionate about, and that provided the motivation. And, second, was the power of the team.
"In the old days, running was a lonely thing to do, and it was easy to get discouraged. Now, all of a sudden, you had people to encourage you," he said.
As the Team In Training program took hold, doubling and tripling in size every year, millions of new dollars became available for cancer research. At that time, Cleland's daughter was given about a 55 percent chance of survival. Recently, the daughter of an acquaintance was diagnosed with the same kind of leukemia that Georgia was diagnosed with at age two.
"Her survival rate is probably about 95 percent," Cleland said. "That's the kind of transformation that's taken place."
To Sign Up
Recruitment is underway in January for the summer marathons, including the Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Marathon and 1/2 Marathon. To learn more, call 800-482-TEAM or visit www.teamintraining.org.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team In Training is the largest endurance sport training program. It raises millions each year to support blood cancer patients and the scientists searching for a cure. LLS prepares thousands of participants annually for marathon and half marathon runs and walks, triathlons and century (100 mile) bike rides. www.LLS.org