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Chris Benyo pushes his wife Denise DiMarzo, who has ALS, up Heartbreak Hill during the 2014 Boston Marathon. (Photo courtesy of Sue Rothberg)
March 11, 2016

Runners support UMass ALS Cellucci Fund at Boston Marathon

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  • Medical School

Six people will represent the UMass ALS Cellucci Fund in the 2016 Boston Marathon to raise awareness of and funds for breakthrough amyotrophic lateral sclerosis research underway at UMass Medical School.

For runner Chris Benyo, there is no other race like Boston. When he crosses the starting line in Hopkinton on April 18, it will be the fifth Boston Marathon he’s run and his 45th marathon overall. What makes it special, though, is that he will be running it for a second time with his wife, Denise DiMarzo, who was diagnosed with ALS in December 2010, six months after their wedding.

DiMarzo had just started running before they were married and the two had talked about training and running a marathon together, said her husband.

“And then she got sick. I wanted to keep my promise to her,” Benyo said, adding that he will be pushing her in a specially designed running chair contributed by The Hoyt Foundation. “It’s an awful, awful disease that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. My wife is amazing and inspires everybody. She keeps me going and fights it every day.”

They have completed seven marathons together. In December, when DiMarzo reached the five-year anniversary of her diagnosis, she made it known that she wanted to reach 10 marathons post-diagnosis; Boston will be their eighth, with the ninth and 10th races in New Jersey and their home state of Illinois later this year.

“Once she passed that milestone we wanted to celebrate,” Benyo said. “There is nothing like Boston; it is the epitome of long distance running.”

There are many inspirations that draw people to the course and the charities that participate. This is the fifth year the Cellucci Fund has been chosen to be part of the John Hancock nonprofit marathon program. The partnership provides official race numbers to those who commit to raising $7,500 to support ALS research at UMMS. Through dedication and commitment, the Cellucci Fund marathon teams have raised more than $225,000.

Since the fund was established in 2011 in honor of former Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci, who died from complications of ALS in 2013, it has generated $3.9 million. The money raised goes to fund ALS breakthroughs happening across UMMS and in the laboratory of Robert H. Brown Jr., DPhil, MD, the Leo P. and Theresa M. LaChance Chair in Medical Research, chair and professor of neurology, Gov. Cellucci’s personal physician and one of the world’s leading ALS researchers.

For Jaime Miller of Hudson, a dream came true when she reached out to Jan Cellucci, wife of the late governor, and received her support to become part of the Cellucci Fund team. It will be Nash’s third marathon, but her first Boston.

“While running Boston has been a dream of mine, running it to support Dr. Brown and his team is an incredible honor,” Miller said. “I find that with this disease, it leaves us feeling helpless, but it is nice to be able to contribute in some way.”

Like the Benyo and DiMarzo, Miller and running mate Sue Beaulieu, also of Hudson, know the impact of ALS on a loved one: Miller will run in honor of her brother, Terry Nash, who has ALS, and Beaulieu will run in memory of her father, Jack Veo, who died from ALS.

To learn more about the 2016 UMass ALS Cellucci Fund Boston Marathon team and meet the other members, Kerri Floramo and Angela Mioglionico, visit the UMass ALS Cellucci Fund website.

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