Running for a Cause

A BU student, lecturer, and staffer take on the Boston Marathon

Rachel McLean (COM’18) ran the Boston Marathon once before, in 2016, finishing in 4 hours and 38 minutes. This year she’s running for a charity honoring her late high school friend Abbie Benford. Photo by Jackie Ricciardi

April 13, 2018
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With her busy schedule, long distance runner Rachel McLean had decided to skip this year’s Boston Marathon. Then came the call from a charity honoring Abbie Benford, a field hockey teammate from high school who died unexpectedly from anaphylaxis eight days before her 16th birthday.

Would McLean (COM’18) run for The KeepSmilin4Abbie Foundation and raise $5,000 for their cause?

“I had been reaching out to them for three years with no luck,” McLean says of her attempts to get a bib. “I thought, this is fate. I couldn’t say no.”

McLean is part of a committed group of BU runners who, after months of training in the cold and dark of winter, will hit the pavement in Hopkinton on Monday. And like other runners, she’s also wrapping up another long uphill challenge: her fundraising commitment.

While the vast majority of the 30,000 Boston Marathon runners earn their bib by meeting the race’s qualifying time, about 20 percent, or 6,500 runners, commit to training and fundraising to get a bib from a marathon-sanctioned charity. Those runners are obligated to raise from $3,000 to $10,000 and pledge the total up front, paying it themselves if they don’t reach their fundraising goal.

It’s not a small obligation, says Jennifer Carter (SED’02), who has run Boston and teaches a course widely known as Marathon 101 as a way to build the University’s distance running community.

“I think if you are running for a cause it’s different, because you’re not only invested in training for the race, you are passionate about the charity you are running for as well,” Carter says. “I also think it can be just as difficult to raise money for a charity as it is to physically train to run 26.2 miles.”

That’s especially true for students, whose time and resources are limited.

Cecilia “CC” Yudin (CFA’09, MET’14, Questrom’22) is running her first Boston Marathon. She has pledged to raise $9,000 for FamilyAid Boston, a nonprofit that works to alleviate homelessness.

Cecilia Yudin
Cecilia Yudin (CFA’09, MET’14, Questrom’22) has run three marathons, but this is her first Boston Marathon. She’s raising money for FamilyAid Boston. Photo by Scott Yellow Goldstein

Her physical training has been relentless. During a recent trip to Asia with the Questrom School of Business Global Management Experience program, the 31-year-old kept up with her training regimen: she did a 12-mile run on a treadmill in Shanghai and within hours of returning from Bangkok completed another 18-mile run.

And the fundraising has been equally intense.

In addition to earning an MBA at Questrom part-time, Yudin works full-time as an assistant director of the school’s Undergraduate Academic & Career Development Center. She sent email requests to hundreds of family, friends, and acquaintances and has held three fundraisers, an event at Scoozi Kenmore attended by Questrom and BU colleagues, one at Anna’s Taqueria in Brookline, where she rolled burritos for contributions, and a charity bartending gig at McGreevy’s sports bar in Boston mixing drinks for donations.

Yudin, who has run two marathons, one that didn’t require fundraising for charity, says she would not have it any other way. “With all things in life, it’s important to have a reason,” she says. “Why am I doing this? Why is this important? What do I hope to gain? This is something I share with my students as they make academic and career choices, but also something I take to heart.”

And besides helping a charity personally, she wants to share the satisfaction. “Involving your friends, family, and community in that journey can allow everyone to experience the achievement,” she says. “Combining that with the opportunity to make a positive impact on others is an incredible honor.”

FamilyAid Boston puts its donations to good use: $35 feeds a homeless family for one day; $500 connects six families living in a shelter with a social worker who will help them save money, get the services they need, and create a plan to return to stable housing.

With $8,629 raised as of April 10, Yudin has just about reached her $9,000 goal, but she’s hoping to surpass it.

Aaron Stevens
Aaron Stevens (MET’02), a Questrom senior lecturer in finance and in computer science at CAS, is running his fourth Boston Marathon. He has raised $43,000 for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Photo courtesy of Aaron Stevens

Aaron Stevens (MET’02), a Questrom senior lecturer in finance and in computer science at the College of Arts & Sciences, has more than doubled his pledge. Stevens says he started running as a way to manage his weight. And it still helps him do that, he says, but now as a dedicated marathoner, it’s also a way he can do something positive in the world, “so it’s not all about me.”

This will be his 4th Boston Marathon, his 14th overall. He’s raised  more than $43,000 in all running Boston for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. So far this year he has topped $13,500, far more than the $5,000 he pledged to raise.

“Fundraising is a bit of a burden—I put a lot of pressure on myself to meet the fundraising goal and I’ve certainly worried about it a lot,” he says. “But it’s an important burden, and that’s what makes it worthwhile.”

The cause he’s running for became a bit more personal in the last year, Stevens says, after an uncle died from pancreatic cancer. He is also running in honor of his dad, a cancer survivor.

Last year, 32 charities officially associated with the Boston race benefited from about $18 million in donations. Another $12 million was raised from 1,000 bibs distributed to select nonprofits through the John Hancock Marathon Non-Profit Program.

There is also the Lingzi Foundation, created in memory of Lu Lingzi (GRS’13), who was killed at the finish line in the 2013 Marathon bombings. Its team of a dozen runners could raise as much as $90,000 for charities this year. Those include the Boston Police Athletic League, which works with for at-risk youth, and One World Strong, offering mentorship to survivors of terrorist attacks.

Boston University’s Lu Lingzi Scholarship Fund, endowed by the BU Board of Trustees in 2013, has raised nearly $1 million to keep Lingzi’s memory alive by offering academic scholarships.

McLean has raised about $4,501 of her personal $10,000 goal (her official goal is $5,000).

She says she and Abbie Benford are both from Hopkinton, where the Marathon begins, and played on the field hockey team together. So on Marathon Monday, McLean will be sent off by supporters, relatives, and friends of Abbie’s, who are all hopeful that the foundation’s work may result in the creation of a lifesaving early detection device for anaphylaxis.

“It will definitely be a race I will be running to cross the finish line, rather than complete in a specific amount of time,” McLean says.

“I’m running for Abbie.”

The 122nd Boston Marathon, on Monday, April 16, begins in Hopkinton, Mass., at 8:40 am. The prime viewing is along Beacon Street from East Campus through Brookline. The first runners should hit that area sometime after 11:30 am. The finish line is in front of the Boston Public Library on Boylston Street. Check out this online map to track the marathon.

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at 

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