NEWBURY — When 15-year-old Mara Bergin ran the 53rd annual Road Race at Yankee Homecoming this summer, she – and the hundreds of other runners who participated – faced seemingly endless climbs and other challenges along the 10-mile course that winds its way through scenic Newburyport.
But the Newbury resident, who has in the past only run the race’s shorter 5K run, says focusing on the struggles of the two people she dedicated her run to helped her plow through the tougher moments of the grueling contest.
In the end, her efforts raised $3,000 to support cancer care and research at Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
But on a more personal note, from the moment she laced up her running shoes on the front lawn of Newburyport High School that July evening, until she eventually crossed the finish line at the 50-yard line of the football field, Bergin was paying special tribute to her grandmother, Alberta MacEachern, and her lacrosse coach and father of her best friend, Chris Riley, both of whom passed away from cancer in February.
“Whenever I got tired, I kept thinking that it wasn’t painful compared to what my grandma and my friend’s dad went through,” she recalled.
Bergin’s parents, Eileen and Chris, said the idea of running in the race and fundaising for Dana Farber was entirely their daughter’s idea.
“We’re very proud of her,” said her mother.
Bergin describes Riley as a real “motivator” in her life. Her coach for 7 years, he took a keen interest in Bergin’s cross-country races and indoor track meets at Central Catholic High School. Impressed by her speed, Riley dubbed Bergin with the nickname “Wheels.”
When she realized the Yankee Homecoming 10-miler runs right past Riley’s house, Bergin knew it would be a perfect tribute to both her former coach and the grandmother who had meant so much to her. Before they passed away, she promised them both she would run the 10-mile race in their honor.
And she decided to make her participation even more meaningful by asking family and friends to sponsor her in this special cause. As the sponsorship checks began coming in, many included words of encouragement like “Go Mara!” the teen said.
Dana Farber was a natural choice for her fundraising efforts because MacEachern and Riley had both been treated there and her family had been impressed with the high level of care provided and friendliness of the staff.
Bergin hopes her contribution will help others fight cancer and possibly find a cure.
One day she dreams of running the Boston Marathon, but for now she has set her sights on revisiting the route at Yankee Homecoming next summer. And when she does, she will again be running to raise funds for Dana Farber.
“Running 10 miles is easy compared to what a cancer patient goes through,” Bergin said. “I think everyone deserves to live a full and healthy life.”