Two students complete 4,000 mile run to raise money for cancer research

Liz Cowle, left, and MaryClaire Molina, right, play with a dog during their journey from San Francisco to Baltimore with the Ulman Cancer Fund. 

Madeleine Swanstrom, Staff Reporter

This summer, two members of the Tulane community completed a 4,000-mile run from San Francisco to Baltimore to raise money for cancer research.

For Liz Cowle, a recent graduate of the five-year accounting program, and junior Mary Clare Molina, the race was physically and mentally challenging but also exhilarating and rewarding. Cowle and Molina participated in the Ulman Cancer Fund’s Young Adult 4K race, which raised money for young adults with cancer. They were members of the same relay team.

In June, 28 runners, including Cowle and Molina, met in San Francisco to begin the long trek to Baltimore.

“Every morning we woke up somewhere around 3 or 4 a.m. and were each given a partner to run with,” Molina said. “We ran relay style, taking turns getting in and out of our team vans.” When the team reached its destination, they met with various communities to educate them about the cause.

The team relied on donated shelter and food as it traveled cross-country, giving Cowle and Molina plenty of stories to recount.

Cowle recalled many of the unique places she stayed in, such as the home of a Mormon family in Utah on the day that gay marriage was legalized and a roadside motel where all 28 team members had to sleep in one room.

The team encountered diverse geography as well as lodging.

“I loved the openness and nothingness of Nevada,” Molina said. Though she added that “Utah and Wyoming were probably the most beautiful” states to run through.

Team members had to stick to a regimented schedule at all hours and follow rules set by the organization. They were rarely allowed free time.

“Getting up between 3 and 5 a.m. every morning and having to run a prescribed amount of miles whether you felt like it or not was physically and mentally grueling,” Molina said.

In the Nevada desert, the team ran at night to beat the daytime heat.

“We put on headlamps and ran in the dark,” Molina said. “I found it very beautiful and thrilling, but some people were terrified and refused to run because they thought they would be attacked by coyotes.”

Despite the demanding schedule of the run, Cowle said she was reminded every day of the reasons why she decided to participate, whether she was learning about new cancer research, meeting people whose lives had been affected by cancer or meeting all of the generous people who donated to the team.

Nine days out of the 49-day run were dedicated to visiting cancer centers, where Cowle and Molina met with young adults battling cancer and learned about treatment and research. In Ohio, they met with Doug Ulman, the founder of the Ulman Cancer Fund.

“That was really awesome because he is just such a powerful figure in the cancer community,” Cowle said. “He battled cancer several times and started this foundation.”

Small donations made a huge difference to team morale.

“People were very helpful and generous along the way,” Molina said.

Cowle was particularly excited when a member of her host family bought some of her favorite post-run fuel, chocolate milk, for her.

“She goes, ‘Who’s my chocolate milk girl?’ and she’s holding two half-gallons of chocolate milk,” Cowle said. “To see someone that I don’t even know has been following this run and has taken so much of an interest in it that she was willing to go out of her way to do something that seemed so little, but to me was so, so awesome.”

One day, when given the task of finding a food donation for the team in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Cowle and another teammate were struck by a huge gesture of generosity at a Fresh Market, when a woman told them to fill up a cart full of anything they wanted after being refused at four other locations.

Throughout the 49 days, the team became close.

“It’s really cool to see how we started as strangers and became family by the end,” Cowle said.

When the race ended in August, both women said that they experienced a rush of emotions. Greeted by fellow Tulane classmates, friends and family after running 20 miles on the last day, they said their goodbyes to each other before heading into a long-awaited recovery and rest period.

“We were hugging and crying at the finish line but were also eager to scurry off in our own directions,” Molina said. “Saying goodbye to everyone on the team was rushed, overwhelming and the most bittersweet experience of my life.”

Individually, Cowle raised over $22,000 for the cause, and Molina raised $9,000. In its entirety, the Ulman Cancer Fund 4K had four bike teams and two running teams making trips across the country this summer, raising over $1 million for the Ulman Cancer Fund in total.

For Cowle, raising money was all about telling people her story, how she was inspired to do the run after losing her mother to cancer. She found that many people could relate to her and were moved to donate.

“It’s a bonding force that you wouldn’t think of because cancer’s become so taboo to talk about,” Cowle said.