If you’ve known me for two minutes, you know I’m a sucker for a worthy cause.
A few weeks ago, on Self-Promotion Monday (a weekly feature on the certified RRCA coaches Facebook page), Shawn Mastrantonio posted a link to a photo of him that’s in contention to be a Runner’s World cover shot.
I pounced on it: I read a little about Shawn on his Facebook page L.U.N.A.R. (Lace Up Now And Run), Liked the page and headed straight to the Runner’s World site to vote. And, because I could vote daily through July 22, I set up a calendar pop-up to remind me to vote every day until then.
Last I knew, Shawn’s photo was third overall and No. 1 in the “inspiring” category (you have to click whether you think the subject is “passionate,” “athletic” or “inspiring”).
No, Shawn and I have never met. We first crossed paths on the coaches page.
But when I see a good cause and someone asks me to vote for it, I vote. (I also vote daily for my local humane society to win cash through Shelter Challenge contests.) I feel guilty if I don’t.
But this isn’t about me. It’s about Shawn.
Here’s why I want him to be on the cover of Runner’s World:
Shawn has a rare cancer syndrome called Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL). I had never heard of it, and to raise awareness for his cause (and his RW cover), I asked him to share his story here on To Well With You.
But I’ll let Shawn tell you the rest of the story in his own words (edited a bit for length):
“I had brain surgery in 1993 to remove a brain tumor from my right cerebellum. In December 2009, I was told that I had a tumor recurrence and two new tumors. I started running as an escape and ran my first half-marathon in 2010. I continued my running journey until I had my second brain surgery to remove one of the tumors on Jan. 31, 2012. In October 2012, I ran the Wineglass Half Marathon in Corning, N.Y., in a PR (personal record) time of 1:30.41.
I have continued running because, to me, running is a metaphor for life. In running, as in life, you gain strength from the challenges you face. Running continues to help me both physically and mentally get through the challenges of living with VHL.”
“Within my own family, I come from a legacy of VHL WARRIORS, including my dad, uncle, cousin and most recently my brother, who have lost their lives to this disease. We believe that there are other family members [who had VHL], but too little was known about the disease when they passed away.
“My dad passed away when I was 10. He passed away on May 15, 1980, my mom’s 43rd birthday. I am the administrator of a Facebook page called L.U.N.A.R. (Lace Up Now And Run), and in some of my posts and T-shirts that I design I include “5/15” to signify the date and to honor both my mom and dad.
“My brother passed away in August 2013. During his battle with VHL, he endured over 30 brain surgeries. I never once heard him complain or ask, ‘Why me?’ My dad and brother are the sources of my strength, faith and inspiration.”
What is VHL?
In this 90-second video, actor Willem Dafoe explains what VHL is.
And back to Shawn’s story:
“Von Hippel-Lindau is a genetic condition involving the abnormal growth of blood vessels in some parts of the body that are particularly rich in blood vessels. It is caused by a flaw in the VHL gene, on the short arm of chromosome 3, which regulates cell growth. Having an alteration in the VHL gene is what is known as a predisposition factor to certain kinds of tumors, including some specific cancers.
“I continue to get monitored for the existing two brain tumors and any new ones along with screening for my kidneys and pancreas as I currently have tumors in them, as well.
“My running journey has been such an amazing experience. It truly has given me strength and often is therapy. I have had so many great people enter my life brought together by the gift of running. These new friendships are such a blessing. My rock is my wife, Kimberly; she has encouraged and supported, and her love is never-ending. She has been there through thick and thin. She has remained strong for me in the difficult times and never left my side.
“2014 was a great year of running for me as I set a new PR in the half marathon of 1:28.56, a 10-mile PR of 1:06.12 and a 5k PR of 19:00.08. I ran my first full marathon in 3:09.48, qualifying for the Boston Marathon.
“2015 started out just as well. I set a PR in the 10k of 39:56 and was feeling strong as I headed into the Seneca7, a 77.7-mile, seven-person relay around Seneca Lake in Geneva, N.Y. After completing my second leg, I suffered a ‘moderate’ heart attack. I was rushed to the hospital, and a stent was put in. The heart attack was caused by a 100 percent blockage of the right coronary artery. The heart attack put an end to my 557-day running streak, but I hope to be able to start a new streak soon. In the meantime, I am concentrating on my health and looking forward to representing the VHL community in 2016 at the Boston Marathon.”
I don’t know about you, but in my book this man still has plenty of heart.
Now, don’t you want to go cast a ballot for Shawn Mastrantonio, and maybe make a donation to the VHL Alliance in honor of him and all the other folks affected by VHL?
Now, go vote!
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