Thousands participate in 11th annual Donna Marathon

26.2-mile run raises money for breast cancer survivors, research

By Ashley Spicer - Reporter, anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Over 10,000 runners from all 50 states and 20 countries crossed the finish line Sunday in the Donna 26.2 Marathon. 

The run benefits the nonprofit organization The Donna Foundation, which provides financial assistance and support to those living with breast cancer and funds cure research. The foundation has served nearly 11,000 families in need and raised over $5 million in funding.

One of this year’s participants just finishing her fight against breast cancer.

“I found out September the biopsy was done (and) I had surgery for removal in October and I kept running all through it,” Erica said.

Erica is 49 years old and just finished radiation therapy on Wednesday. 

Participants in the 11th annual Donna Marathon

“I got to run with Donna on Friday and she's been at every event,” Erica said. “(She) started us off on every run and it's been awesome.”

Erica said finding out she had cancer was scary but she wasn't going to take it lying down.

“You know what I realized (is) that when you hear cancer, it doesn't have to mean a death sentence,” Erica said. “Just be strong, listen to what the treatment has for you and walk through it. For me, I kept running through it.”

Erica’s story is something founder and breast cancer survivor Donna Deegan said she’s glad to hear.

“Everybody has their own reason for being here. You have yours. I have mine. But to hear all those stories day in and day out, over and over, that's what brings people here and what makes this an event like none other,’ Deegan said. 

After a decade of thousands running the marathon, it's more than just a run; it's the only marathon in the country dedicated to breast cancer research. And the research conducted happens in Jacksonville, at the Mayo Clinic, which is also where the finish line was for the race.

Participants in the 11th annual Donna Marathon

Participants ran for friends, family members or for themselves. 

“We've all been touched,” Deegan said. “Our mothers, our sisters, we know what it's like to feel pain over this disease and we want it to end.”

This year, over 70 corporate teams participated, which is more than ever. Funding not only supports research but also provides financial assistance to those living with breast cancer.

News4Jax spoke with breast cancer survivor Mary Sterle. She said she has participated in the marathon all 11 years. On Sunday, she brought her family out to join her.

“It's not that hard when you're surrounded by love and family,” Sterle said. “We get each other through it and my niece is 13, Lilly is doing this for her first time and my Dad is 78.”

For those who missed the race this year but want to give it a try next year, the next Donna Marathon is scheduled for Feb. 10, 2019.

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