A group of Maine athletes who call themselves the “Downeast Divas” are on a mission to raise awareness and money for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society by participating in half marathons.
In January, the Downeast Divas plan to race in the Walt Disney World Half Marathon with Team in Training, an organization dedicated to raising money for blood cancer research and treatment, and which has trained over a half-million runners, walkers, cyclists, triathletes and hikers since its inception.
During the Walt Disney World Half Marathon, the Downeast Divas will be running in honor of Kennebunk cancer patients Matthew Pollini and Calvin Fuhrmann. As part of a fundraising campaign, the team has collected about $3,100 toward its $26,100 goal to raise money for the Luekemia & Lymphoma Society.
Eleven-year-old Matthew Pollini, son of Amy Pollini, a 43-year-old Downeast Diva team member from Kennebunk, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia on June 10.
Matthew is receiving treatments at Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center in Portland, but according to his mother, he is still “a typical 11-year-old” who goes to school and plays sports.
“It was out of the blue,” said Amy Pollini, of her son’s diagnosis.
“He demanded to know why this was happening to him. Why did his little body have to be put through so much physically? Why did his mind have to be put through so much mentally? We will never know the answers to his questions. We can only respond with love and hope and determination.
“I am going to run in January in Walt Disney World,” said Amy Pollini, who joined Downeast Divas in June. “I am going to persevere through my obstacles. I am going to finish. And at the end I am going to look at my son and let him know I did it all for him, and I would do it again.”
In 2012, Downeast Diva team captain Kristin Fuhrmann-Simmons from Kennebunkport formed the group after learning that her father Dr. Calvin Fuhrmann, a Maine physician from Kennebunk, was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphoid Leukemia in 2008.
“I didn’t know what to do to feel empowered. It was a really scary, horrible time for my family,” Fuhrmann-Simmons said. Since its inception, the Downeast Divas, which now has 11 members, have completed four endurance races and several fundraising campaigns with Team in Training, said Fuhrmann-Simmons. The Downeast Divas train together weekly, said Fuhrmann-Simmons.
“It allowed us to take action and feel connected to our community,” she said. “It gave us a positive thing to do while we watched, waited and supported by dad. My father’s cancer would have been met with a different prognosis just five years ago. It is now treatable thanks to the effort of TNT fundraising teams.”
Fuhrmann-Simmons ran her first Disney World Half Marathon in 2013 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. She was inspired to run after her father, who was also a runner, was hospitalized with a severe case of pneumonia in 2012.
She also participated in a Disneyland Coast to Coast Challenge, which required her to run a half marathon in Disney World on the east coast and another half marathon on the west coast.
“I loved it so much, I just kept going with it. I saw the amount of money being raised for Leukemia and Lymphoma. Ninety percent of the funds go directly to research and treatment,” Fuhrmann-Simmons said.
“It’s been a wonderful experience to be a part of this group,” Amy Pollini said. Disney’s event in January will be her first time running a half marathon.
“I’ve only competed in 5Ks,” she said. “But if my little 10-year-old can face such a horrible diagnosis, the least I could do is race up my running sneakers and hit the pavement. He’s my inspiration.”
In February 2014, Fuhrmann-Simmons and a few other team members ran in Disney’s Glass Slipper Challenge, which includes a 5K, 10K and a “Princess Half Marathon.”
“It started to grow from there,” Fuhrmann-Simmons said of Downeast Divas. “It’s such an empowering and amazing group. It’s been great outpouring of support.”