NEWBURYPORT — It’s been more than two years since Newburyport resident Nicole Elliot lost her mother, Brenda Lee Brockelbank, to cancer in 2011 and she’s determined to keep her mother’s memory and spirit alive by doing her part to help find a cure.
The 28-year-old Elliot and her close friend, Jennifer Lambert of Rowley, who also lost her mother to cancer in 2010, have teamed up the past three years to run the 13.1-mile Dana-Farber Half Marathon in Boston. The event supports The Jimmy Fund.
They are set to do so again Sunday and every year thereafter, as long as they’re able.
“This will be our fourth year running in the race, and Jenn and I have stayed by each other’s side for each one,” said Elliot, who served five years of active duty in the Air Force and is currently a member of the Air Force Reserve working for the Department of Defense at Hanscom Air Force Base. “We encourage and motivate each other along the route, always reminding ourselves that this is our ‘Miles for Moms.’”
The expression “Miles for Moms” came about when Lambert’s mother, Nadine Bolen, during her sickness, would tell her daughter before going out for a run, to “run a mile for me.”
“It’s our way of keeping their spirit and memory alive. We run because our moms can’t,” Elliot said. “Our moms were amazing women, our biggest supporters, and they provided us with so much strength. They truly were the most empathetic and compassionate people you could ever meet. This is our way of giving back.”
Elliot, who is originally from Salisbury and attended Triton Regional High School, took up running upon her entry into the Air Force eight years ago. She and Lambert will be joined in this year’s race by Lambert’s sister, Sarah, her aunt, Alysson Lambert, and friend, Jessica King.
Participating in the annual half-marathon has provided many joys and challenges.
“One year, Jenn really got ill along the route. Her aunt ran along beside us, and we pushed Jenn through it,” said Elliot. “Jenn didn’t stop once. It’s hard to stop when you know you’re doing it for a cause, especially because it hits so close to home.”
Elliot also remembers the first year when all of their family and friends were there to cheer them on at the finish.
“This year we’re hoping for the same,” she said. “The race itself seems easy. I don’t know if it’s because of the cause or not, but it’s an amazing feeling to run this race. Every year, when I hit about the sixth or seventh mile, I feel like I’m starting over at mile one.”
Elliot, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business and human resources from Wayland Baptist University, said she and Lambert train for the Dana-Farber race and try to participate in as many races as possible throughout the year.
Seeing her mother pass away at the age of 52, a week before her 53rd birthday (Lambert’s mother was 53 when she died), has left Elliot with an intense sense of purpose.
“The hope is that someday nobody will have to suffer the physical and emotional pain our mothers went through, and that we went through as young women in our 20s,” she said. “I know everyone’s life must come to an end, but I never imagined being this young and not having my mother by my side.
“She was my biggest fan, my biggest supporter, and my best friend. I lost all of that the day she passed. Even while my mother was going through her treatments, she volunteered her time at the American Cancer Society’s ‘Road to Recovery,’ ensuring that patients who had no ride to their appointments were set up with transportation.”
Elliot admitted that coping with her loss is an ongoing ordeal, but contributing to the cause for cancer research is a means of achieving fulfillment.
“People say it will get better, but, honestly, it never gets any easier. You just learn to live with it,” she said. “It changes you in so many ways. My entire life and outlook on life has changed. Life is too short, and Jenn and I have witnessed that. (Running in the Dana-Farber event) provides me with a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment — that I’m helping make a difference in the fight against cancer.”
Along with running in the Dana-Farber race, Elliot and Lambert host a yearly benefit cruise — called the Sunset Cruise — to raise money. Operated out of Al Gauron’s Fishing Fleet in Hampton, N.H., the cruise has raised over $3,000 annually the past four years.