By Matt Taylor, Contributing Writer
Westborough – The sport of running has many benefits. Staying fit, achieving goals and receiving a medal or other memento at the finish line are some of them. Many times there are charitable donations involved in running races. Westborough resident Julie McLucas has incorporated all these benefits into the local chapter of the charity Medals4Mettle she started.
Medals4Mettle was started after Indianapolis head and neck surgeon Dr. Steven Isenberg completed the 2003 Chicago Marathon and visited colleague Les Taylor, who was sick with leukemia. Not sure of what to say to his friend, Isenberg pulled out his finisher's medal and placed it around Taylor's neck.
“I want you to have this,” Isenberg said. “You'se running a much more difficult marathon than the one I completed.”
Taylor treasured the medal so much, it prompted Isenberg to start Medals4Mettle, which issues donated medals from runners to patients who battle life-threatening illnesses.
McLucas started running five years ago after watching her husband run hundreds of races. After holding keys, wet clothes and money for her husband and his friends, she decided to run the races herself, and continues to do so regularly. McLucas also worked as an oncology social worker, and soon found a way to combine her love of running and her professional expertise for the good of others.
She came across an ad in “Runners World” magazine that told the story of the organization and its mission. She contacted the national headquarters in Indianapolis and asked if there was a Boston area chapter. When there wasn's one, McLucas started the Boston chapter and has handed out hundreds of medals to deserving patients ranging in age from 7 to 45. She has cultivated relationships with runners all over the area, including four-time Boston Marathon Champion Bill Rodgers. McLucas works with the Hematology, Oncology and Pediatrics division of the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center in Worcester to determine which patients qualify for the program.
The medals are given to the charity from various donors who completed either a full or half marathon, or a triathlon. After the proper recipient has been determined, the medals are then attached to a customized Medals4Mettle ribbon.
“We try to tailor the experience to the wishes of the patient,” McLucas said. “There was a 16-year-old patient with leukemia who wanted to become a Marine, so we got a hold of a Marine Corps Marathon medal and gave it to him. He was thrilled.”
The Disney Marathon and Rock and Roll Marathon medals are very popular choices among younger patients. Bill Rodgers has signed and given away a number of his own medals to patients in the area. Medals4Mettle, the UMass Memorial Medical Center and McLucas also help arrange a ceremony and celebration for patients as they receive the awards.
“The kids love receiving the medals, but the parents are grateful as well because they understand how difficult it is to run and finish these races,” McLucas said.
Perhaps what separates Medals4Mettle from other charities is the fact that it does not compete with other organizations for money. Its mission is to work with other charitable groups to increase awareness and education by providing runners a simple way to make a gift of their medals.
“It's not always easy to go around asking people for money for a race or walk,” McLucas said. “This is a simple way to donate something special without having to give money during difficult economic times.”
Medals4Mettle does accept contributions to offset the costs of making ribbons, awarding medals to recipients, creating chapter promotional materials and for administrative expenses. To donate a medal from a marathon, half marathon or triathlon, visit www.medals4mettle.org or contact Julie McLucas at [email protected].