By Sue Wambolt, Contributing Writer
Westborough/Shrewsbury – Ashley Orlando-Lohnes, 29, is a fourth-grade special education teacher at the Mill Pond School. She lives in Shrewsbury with her husband, Adam, 29, and their six-week-old son, Carter. Both Ashley and Adam will be running the Boston Marathon Monday, April 21, in honor of Ashley's former student, Mark Kotosky.
It has been five years since Ashley worked as Mark's one-to-one paraprofessional, but the bond that was forged between the two has remained strong through the years. Mark, who is autistic and nonverbal, was diagnosed with acute myeloma leukemia in October 2012. At the time, he was an eighth-grader at Gibbons Middle School.
“Mark is an amazing boy,” Orlando-Lohnes said. “I grew so close with him that we stayed in touch with his family and my husband and I would watch him when they needed a sitter.”
Orlando-Lohnes watched as Mark fought leukemia, her heart breaking every step of the way. Unable to help in a tangible way, she decided to run the Boston Marathon last year with Team in Training (alongside co-teacher Erin Yablonski) to fundraise for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society – in honor of Mark.
“Personally, it was a way for me to cope with this unfair, terrible thing that was happening. It helped take away some of the feeling of helplessness,” she said.
Joining Team in Training, she said, has been one of the best experiences of her life.
“I was able to meet a group of amazing people who took to running to help them cope, who wanted to make a difference, and who were willing to wake up at 6 a.m. every Saturday morning to run in below – or close to – freezing temps for four months,” Orlando-Lohnes said.?”It is such a wonderful, supportive,?inspiring?team. Everyone there is running for this great cause.”
Unfortunately, she only made it to mile 24 before she realized that something was very wrong. She was never able to finish the marathon because of the tragic bombings which took the lives of three onlookers and injured an estimated 264 others. After a terrifying few hours fear turned to anger.
“Honestly, I am angry,” she said. “I am angry that someone could be so mean, and want to cause harm to good people doing great things. I am angry that such a happy and wonderful event was turned into a tragedy. I am angry that someone has taken four innocent lives and turned so many other innocent lives upside down.”
On April 21, Ashley will once again lace up her sneakers and, joined by Adam, run the Boston Marathon.
“This year, we will again run for Mark – for his strength and perseverance and for all the patients like him who are fighting this disease. We will also run for a dear friend and incredible woman, Mary Paige, who lost her battle with breast cancer this past September,” she said.
For Ashley and all who will be running, this year's Boston Marathon will be a true testimony to the strength and resiliency of the city of Boston and the worldwide running community.
“This year we will run for those who can's,” Orlando-Lohnes said. “For those who lost their lives last April, those who lost loved ones, those who lost limbs, those who still have trouble sleeping at night because of the horrific things they witnessed and the brave souls and first responders who ran selflessly to help those who were hurt.”
Today, Mark is in remission and doing well.
To learn more about Ashley's story visit www.irunformark.com. To donate to Team in Training and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, visit: http://pages.teamintraining.org/ma/boston14/adamandashley