Unique Stories, Shared Purpose: MDA Team Momentum at the Boston Marathon

Since 1897, the Boston Marathon has held a special place in the hearts of Bostonians. Held every third Monday in April, the Boston Marathon is one of the most famous races in the world, attracting runners of all abilities to a beautiful, grueling course that begins in the hilly western suburbs of Boston and ends in a final dash to the finish line on Boylston Street.

The marathon is especially attractive for those who run for charitable causes such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Five years ago, MDA began its endurance program under the name MDA Team Momentum and since 2016 has had a significant presence at the Boston Marathon. The team’s distinctive bright yellow jerseys stand out among the thousands of runners on the course.

On Sept. 10, registration for the 2019 Boston Marathon opened for runners with a qualifying time. If you haven’t qualified and are considering running a marathon or are looking for a new and exciting way to give back to MDA, “running Boston” is an experience like no other.

MDA Team Momentum at the Boston Marathon

MDA Team Momentum is committed to raising money for MDA’s mission to provide treatments and cures, along with programs and services, for the neuromuscular disease community. Whether you’re a first-time runner or a seasoned marathoner, MDA Team Momentum welcomes anyone interested in running a race and raising money on behalf of MDA. To date, nearly 4,000 MDA Team Momentum participants have raised close to $5 million.

MDA Team Momentum runners hosted by Hopkinton Fire Local 3772 before the 2018 marathon.

For those who may be intimidated by the commitment needed to run the Boston Marathon, MDA offers unparalleled support to make the experience both enjoyable and meaningful.

“MDA offers amazing fundraising support from Team Momentum staff and past participants,” says Chris Marshall, MDA national director of Team Momentum and six-time Boston Marathon participant. “Additionally, we offer a certified running coach with more than 30 years of Boston Marathon coaching experience, unrivaled VIP amenities and rich mission integration throughout the whole experience.”

Securing entries to the race is a competitive process, but with the support of the John Hancock Non-Profit Program at the Boston Marathon, MDA has been granted numerous entries in the last few years.

“The John Hancock Non-Profit Program has allowed MDA participants the opportunity to raise an extraordinary number of funds for families living with muscle disease,” Chris says. “We are extremely grateful to John Hancock for partnering with MDA for the fourth year in a row and allowing our participants the opportunity to run the Boston Marathon.”

CITGO is another long-time supporter of MDA Team Momentum. “At every signature racing event throughout the country, the company awards the CITGO Fueling Good award to a team member who goes above and beyond the initial fundraising commitment and who continually supports the MDA mission,” says Chris. “It is a great recognition for our most dedicated runners.”

Why our runners run Boston

Each MDA Team Momentum member who has run the Boston Marathon has a unique backstory but a shared, common purpose: to end neuromuscular disease. Here are a few of our favorite stories:

Colin Batty

Boston resident Colin Batty joined MDA Team Momentum as a way to honor his relatives living with Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease. His mother’s side of the family — including his mom, aunts and uncles, and other extended family — all have a form of the condition. When the opportunity to run the Boston Marathon with Team Momentum presented itself, Colin couldn’t pass it up.

“For me it was easy,” Colin says. “It was a cause near and dear to my heart, and I didn’t want to run Boston for anyone else.”

As a group fitness instructor teaching interval-based cycling workouts, Colin was already in great shape; however, he had never attempted a marathon. He credits coach John Furey with helping him prepare for Boston’s difficult course.

Colin braving the rain at the 2018 marathon.

“With MDA Team Momentum, we get one of the best coaches, having run the marathon several times himself,” Colin says. “John is a coach who can get you from couch to the finish line if you follow his program.”

Colin has run the Boston Marathon the last two years and for this year’s race was the recipient of the CITGO Fueling Good Award. Overall, Colin has raised nearly $23,000 to date.

He found the greatest fundraising success by keeping the process simple.

“No event is too small,” Colin says. “You don’t have to host a big, grandiose event. My most successful events were renting out a room at a local tavern, inviting friends out and raffling off prizes, and also splitting profits at my family’s local IAFF Legion Hall’s bingo night.”

Colin credits the support of the MDA Team Momentum staff in helping make the process manageable. “They really prepare you for success, from fundraising to training,” Colin says. “You don’t have to go it alone.”

For Colin, the experience was an emotional one. The long training runs and the difficulty of running the marathon under extreme weather conditions were well worth the effort.

“In the end, I am doing this for the people I care about the most.”

Mike Hall

Mike Hall is a flight medic for the U.S. Air Force, currently stationed in Florida. His travels have taken him all over the world, and as an experienced marathoner, he has had the opportunity to run marathons in unique locations such as Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan and Walt Disney World. Yet it was in 2016, during the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., where Mike first learned about MDA Team Momentum. He joined the team shortly after.

Team Momentum
Mike and his sister Danielle after the 2017 Boston Marathon.

To Mike, MDA’s mission is personal — his 28-year-old sister, Danielle, lives with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and his brother, DJ, passed away from the same condition at 19 months. Danielle has been in and out of the hospital over the years, but through it all has remained Mike’s biggest supporter.

“Her dream always was to be able to run a marathon with me,” Mike says. “I always wondered how I could make that a reality, and by running for MDA, I was able to do that.”

In 2017, Mike ran both the Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon on behalf of MDA Team Momentum. Although stationed in South Carolina at the time, Mike was still able to stay in touch with Coach Furey.

“I kept in contact by email and phone, letting him know how I was training each day,” Mike says. “He made me feel a part of the team, and I really appreciated that.”

To date, Mike has raised nearly $15,000 for MDA Team Momentum through a variety of fundraising techniques. Throughout the marathon process, Mike had the unwavering support of MDA Team Momentum staff. “The team prepares you well for fundraising and makes the process as seamless as possible,” Mike says.

The 2017 Boston Marathon was one of the hottest on record. Although the weather was an added challenge, Mike finished the race, American flag in hand, undeterred by the heat. Danielle was at the finish line to welcome him.

It was a moment he’ll never forget.

“Running with the flag and seeing my sister at the finish line was just a great feeling,” Mike says. “Running Boston has always been a dream and to have the chance to run for MDA, it was perfect.”

From a corporate perspective

Companies have also taken the opportunity to get involved with MDA Team Momentum.

Wave Life Sciences is a Cambridge, Mass.-based biotechnology company focused on developing therapies for rare diseases including Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In addition to the company’s mission to bring life-changing therapies to market, Wave is committed to helping the neuromuscular disease community in a different way by sponsoring and supporting employees who wish to run the Boston Marathon for MDA.

“We have had a lot of employee interest in MDA Team Momentum,” says Wendy Erler, vice president of Patient Advocacy and Commercial Market Insights at Wave. “Last year, we asked each interested employee to provide a personal statement on why running for MDA matters to them, and we held a drawing to choose our runner. So far we’ve had three individual runners who have run the Boston Marathon and plan on sponsoring a fourth next year. Chris and his team have been instrumental in providing ongoing support and guidance to our runners.”

Hannah, an employee at Wave Life Sciences, greeting supporters along the 2018 marathon route.

Wave is proud to participate.

“There has been great employee-wide excitement,” Wendy says. “It’s as if we are all participating vicariously through the runner. There is a real connection to the mission of MDA. We’ve had each of our runners run for someone living with a muscle condition and have had those families come in to speak to employees about their personal experience.”

Wave supports their employee runners throughout the process. The company, in addition to awarding entries, matches each dollar raised by the runner, up to $10,000. Internal fundraising events include an annual employee chili cook-off. And on race day, a contingent of Wave employees heads into town to support their colleagues.

“Every year we have several employees waiting for the runner at the finish line,” Wendy says. “Even last year, when it was freezing cold and raining.”

For a company like Wave focused on the intricate science of neuromuscular disease, helping an organization like MDA fulfill its mission allows the company to impact the lives of DMD and ALS patients in another way. Adds Jeffrey Smith, director of Patient Advocacy at Wave: “In terms of MDA’s mission, to see the impact that the dollars raised on behalf of MDA Team Momentum have on patients and families living with neuromuscular disease, from Summer Camp to other programs and services, is amazing.”

A unique feeling

If you are considering running the Boston Marathon or are interested in participating in other MDA Team Momentum signature races, Chris encourages you to reach out.

“Our entire staff is happy to talk through the process with anyone who may be on the fence or who is considering running Boston or any other race,” Chris says. “Our team members are passionate about fulfilling MDA’s life-saving mission, and they would all be happy to talk with you and share their experience.

“There is no feeling quite like crossing the finish line of the Boston Marathon — or any race — for a cause that you are passionate about.”

To learn more and to apply for a spot on the Boston Marathon team, visit http://www.mdateammomentum.org/bostonmarathon2019

Stay tuned for a full launch of Team Momentum 2019 events. For a review of 2018 events, visit www.mdateam.org.