Missy Abbott running Boston Marathon virtually, raising melanoma awareness

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Wednesday, September 9th, 2020 at 1:26 PM
Missy Abbott running Boston Marathon virtually, raising melanoma awareness by Thomas Taylor
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Even in the midst of COVID-19, stories of athletes overcoming unthinkable odds continue to emerge, and touch the heart. For one regional teacher, this challenge requires running in a familiar environment for a marathon that was supposed to be held in a city over 500 miles away, and for a personal cause.

Missy Abbott, a fifth grade teacher at Northwest Elementary School, has been running marathons since 2013, competing in the Erie Marathon that year and the Indianapolis Marathon in 2018. This year, she’s running in the Boston Marathon digitally.

“Two years ago, my husband (Dan Abbott) was diagnosed with melanoma,” she said. “It was a scare for our family and made us think about things more. A bucket list item for both of us is that we would someday run the Boston Marathon.”

After they set their goal, Abbott and her husband started looking for organizations who would sponsor them in the historic race. In 2018, they found IMPACT Melanoma, which focuses on awareness and prevention of the disease. The nonprofit is a national organization, with IMPACT standing for “Improving Melanoma Prevention through Awareness, Care, & Teaching.”

“They have programs for teachers, for instance, that allow teachers to go into schools to teach about the prevention of melanoma,” said Abbott. They also help individuals protect their skin. “They have dispensers which will distribute about an ounce of sunscreen.”

Locally, these dispensers can be found in a few places, including Sunview Golf in Edinboro. The organization is looking to expand these dispensers to every state park in Pennsylvania, including Presque Isle, by next year.

The family has done a lot of work for IMPACT Melanoma, including volunteering their time to help bring awareness to the cause. In June, they spoke at “Martinis for Melanoma,” an online event hosted by the nonprofit. Every year, they have a booth at the craft fair at General McLane High School, handing out pamphlets. And in November, the organization will be holding a gala where they will be speaking.

Even during the holidays, they continue to raise money. “Even when we’re not fundraising, we’ll make cookies and the profits we give to charity.”

Abbott and her husband will soon be awarded the “Keeper of the Hope” honor, which is presented by the IMPACT Melanoma board of directors each year. According to the organization’s website, the award is given to “a member of our IMPACT community, whose generosity, vision, and commitment to the organization over time is unwavering.”

“It’s for people...who volunteer for the charity, and who give up their time,” Abbott explained further. “And [it’s for people who] just represent what it means to exemplify living a life that has modeled prevention of melanoma.”

The Boston Marathon had originally been postponed until September, and she found out in June it was going virtual. This allows runners to still participate in the race, just a little closer to home. “They’re allowing runners to run virtually. They can pick their place, where they want to start, where they want to finish,” Abbott explained. “There’s an app (124th Boston Marathon) that they send out to all the runners, who will then uplink their results to that app when they are finished.”

For Abbott, this meant she would be running the race in Edinboro, where she had been training since last year. “I first started training last November…because [I was going to be] running in April; I’m starting to get acclimated to the colder weather, huge distances, and running in snow because I don’t normally run races in the spring,” she said. “I normally run fall races, so that was a transition.”

In preparation for that initial race day, there was a specific rhythm she kept. “I’m out running on Saturdays, longer distances.” By the time the race had been postponed, she had hit her stride. “I was all the way through my training, and hit my longest run in March when they postponed. So, I had done pretty much all my training, and I pretty much started all over again for that (the virtual race).”

Following the postponement, Abbott decided to take a month off. “I had started to develop some injuries in my feet, so I wanted to rest them. And in May, I started back up training again,” she explained.

Through all of this, Abbott remembered her other passion: protecting herself and others against the sun. “As a runner, being outside all the time, I have to make sure I’m protecting myself. And because I’m out for more than two hours at a time, I have to lather up while I’m running again, put more sunscreen on. And I don’t think people even think about those kind of things.”

The timeframe for the virtual race actually started the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, running through Sept. 13. People can track the progress of runners online through the Boston Marathon Virtual Experience app. “It will show my progress as I run. Even though I’m not in Boston, it will show where I’m at, and how far into my run I am by virtual live tracking.”

Abott will start running Sept. 12 at 7 a.m. in Albion. You can see her route below. 

With running for a nonprofit for the Boston Marathon, Abbott explained there’s a process. “In order to get into Boston, most of the charities are based out of Boston. So, if you want to run as a charity runner, you usually have to connect to a charity within Boston. Within the time of us getting to know IMPACT over the last few years, they have become a national organization.”

Through these past few years, Abbott has met others whose loved ones have gone through similar experiences, including other runners. “We have a group of us who have been emailing back and forth, and sharing what we do virtually.”

This group, which is a part of IMPACT Melanoma, would have monthly meetings, talking about fundraising and promotion for the charity. “The organization provided a lot materials, including for reading. They have these bracelets we can hand out, and they turn purple in the sun to remind you to put on your sunscreen. And through that, we talked a lot as a team.”

Abbott said there’s been a large response from the community, specifically from the Facebook page “Edinboro Neighbors.”

“I got a lot of private messages of people saying, ‘Thank you for doing this, our family has been impacted by melanoma.’”

The response goes beyond social media, though. “Even when I’ve been out at the craft fair [or] the women’s event in February, the stories you would hear just from our community, and how people have been impacted from melanoma. I would love for people to be more aware of the disease itself, to prevent, and if they can recognize things...and say ‘Oh yeah, that’s the organization, they do a lot for melanoma,’ that would be a bonus.”

“I would love for people to be inspired to run,” Abbott stated. “At school, we’re going to be doing lessons on the Friday before about the Boston Marathon, just to get kids to hear about it and about the charity.”

Education plays a large part in awareness, particularly for outside events. Abbott hopes to do outdoor lessons in the spring with materials provided by IMPACT Melanoma. “[It’s] prior to our track and field days, when we’re going to be outside all day, and it’s really neat to see how the kids react and are like ‘Yeah, I need to get my sunscreen on.’”

Finishing up, she reflected on how her family’s own story with IMPACT Melanoma, and the awareness raised, can inspire others. “Any more awareness for people would be great, and if it would inspire someone to run even just a mile, I think that would be great too.”

Thomas Taylor is a staff writer for The Spectator. He can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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