For Bedford resident Greg Shapley, running in this year’s Boston Marathon on Monday is more than the race of his life.
It’s a race for a friend’s life.
Shapley, running in his first Boston Marathon, is participating in the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge. The event is a nationwide fundraiser to help battle cancer.
“Ray Taylor is a friend and training partner of mine. His wife, Wendi, is fighting stage 4 metastatic breast cancer,” said Shapley. “I’m running the Boston Marathon for Dana-Farber in support of her. One of the drugs she currently takes was developed in partnership by the research scientists at Dana-Farber.”
The 49-year-old minister of music and worship at First United Methodist Church of Hurst is no stranger to marathons, having run six. It began with the Cowtown Marathon in 2012.
“I ran that race in under four hours, and since them I’ve improved at every race,” said Shapley. “I’ve run the Houston Marathon twice, American Discovery Trail Marathon in Colorado Springs, The Woodlands Marathon and the Erie Marathon in Erie, Penn.”
But in Boston the goal isn’t time as much as raising awareness and money. Shapley and close to 600 other participants in the challenge hope to raise $5.2 million for cancer research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a world-renowned affiliate of Harvard Medical School.
“I have an anonymous donor who will match all giving up to $5,000,” said Shapley, adding that folks can help by visiting bit.ly/1CGHjkB and give online.
“Wendi is fighting cancer every day. Although the doctors say she will never completely beat the cancer, she continues to fight and has a high quality of life thanks to the research that goes on at Dana-Farber.”
Shapley’s dedication to help his friend has encouraged others. Ray Taylor, in fact, is running in Boston alongside his good friend, as is another member of their running group, David Ball.
“She was honored that Greg chose to name her in the his fundraising campaign,” said Taylor. “I was not surprised — that’s just the type of person Greg is.
“In our quest to qualify to run Boston, Greg and I have ran marathons in Colorado, Pennsylvania and Texas together. We have gotten to know each other very well and have become good friends.”
Shapley started running in high school for fun and to stay in shape, but never competitive. Prior to the Cowtown he ran mainly 5K and 10K races. In college at Arizona State University, he put together a team of friends and they ran a school-sponsored 5K together.
“I don’t consider myself an athlete, but running is something that anyone can do,” said Shapley. “The more someone runs, the more they improve. I’ve improved nearly 25 minutes from my first marathon in 2012.”
It was Ball who first encouraged Shapley to run marathons.
“He was intrigued by the marathon distance. I encouraged him when he said he’d like to step up to that distance because that is the distance I run the most,” said Ball.
“Before long we were running regularly together in training runs. It is in the running of hundreds of miles together you learn about a man, his family, his thoughts, his aspirations and his character. We share many of the same values as men.”
He also likes cycling, fishing, skiing and “whatever my family is doing.” He and his wife have three children who all play sports, including son Ben, who was born with Down syndrome. So Special Olympics is also dear to Shapley’s heart. Ben also participates in special-needs gymnastics and is part of a special-needs cheerleading team Rejoice! at Spirit Extreme Cheerleading in Southlake.
“He chose to run that first marathon at Cowtown, and I secretly began a charity pledge campaign with his friends and family to support the Down Syndrome Partnership of North Texas,” said Ball. “I sprang it on him when driving him to the start line that race morning.
“It didn’t surprise me that he would take on the Dana Farber cancer team to run in the Boston Marathon. It isn’t enough that he cares and visits with cancer patients, he is compelled to make a difference.”
And, even though he wasn’t in Boston at the time, Shapley thinks frequently about the 2013 terrorist bombing at the legendary race.
“I had friends that were running and just narrowly missed the bombs going off,” he said. “I felt angry and violated. A marathon like Boston is a celebration of life, and for someone to turn it into a death trap enraged me.
“It was that event that kicked my training into high gear and inspired me to go run the race that next year. Although I didn’t qualify for that race, I had many friends who ran. Watching an American, Meb Keflezighi win that race the very next year was one of the proudest moments for America in a long time. I count myself very fortunate to run this great race this year for an important cause like Dana-Farber.”
It also inspired him to work to bring others, like Taylor and Ball, to Boston with him.
“Even though we went to the same church I did not know Greg very well. That changed after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings,” said Taylor. “Greg emailed me along with other people he new that were runners. What started as an emotional email because of the bombing has developed into a small running group that has been consistently running together for almost two years.
“It was Greg’s vision that started the ball rolling with the email. We were all emotionally affected by the bombings. Greg took it a step further and brought us together. For that I am thankful.”
Not qualifying last year made Shapley and his friends even more determined to be in the field this year. So the already intense training got even more intense.
“The man is relentless. He has literally run himself to near passing out,” said Ball. “There is nothing left of the man when he crosses the finish line except his hammered body and a sweat puddle. The man sweats enough for three men, just saying.”
“It took us two years but three of us in our group will be running the 2015 Boston Marathon. It’s going to be amazing,” said Taylor.
“Most mornings, I’m up at 4:30 to meet my group at 5. Sometimes earlier,” Shapley said. “Today, I ran 21 miles before 8:30 a.m.
“My training, even on the toughest days, pales in comparison to people who fight a battle with cancer every day. On April 20 in Boston, I run for them. They will give me all of the inspiration I need to conqueror the 26.2 miles and finish ‘Boston Strong.’”