Originally appeared as an article on the Corning intranet:
With every step she takes in the 2016 Boston Marathon this month Sue Freidus will be helping athletes with intellectual disabilities experience the joy of sports and celebration.
Sue, digital program manager for Corning Life Sciences, has pledged to raise $10,000 for Special Olympics Massachusetts. The Funds she is raising will allow as many as 26 athletes to attend a year’s worth of training, meets, and other Special Olympics events throughout the state.
In exchange for her pledge, Sue earned a place at the starting line for one of the world’s premier sporting events.
“Special Olympics is such a great organization,” said Sue, who will turn 55 years-old just before the April 18 race. “It’s been a real joy preparing for all this – and I can hardly believe the marathon is almost here.”
Sue, a native of Newton, Massachusetts, was a spectator at many Boston Marathons as she was growing up. She admired not only the traditional runners, but also the wheelchair athletes – all of them strong and determined as they raced along Commonwealth Avenue.
At the same time, she was deeply moved by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, another Bostonian, who founded Special Olympics in 1968.
“We always followed what she was doing,” Sue recalled. “I remember watching her on black and white television as she rolled out the organization. It was so fascinating to see her create this new opportunity for people who’d never had it before.”
Sue, who joined Corning in 1999, started running 15 years ago. It was a great way to stay fit as she entered her 40s.
She ran 5k races and became an advocate for fitness and philanthropy at the Life Sciences office. She joined colleagues in events like the 2010 Race for the Cure in Boston. She edged up her stamina and started running 10ks and even a few half-marathons over recent years.
“But I never, ever dreamed of running a marathon.” She said.
That all changed last fall. Because she had participated in several “Jolly Jaunt” runs to benefit Special Olympics, she was on the organization’s email list – and got a message inviting her to apply for one of eight slots the organization would have in the 2016 Boston Marathon.
Significantly, she was in her family’s small vacation home at the time – a place they’d affectionately names “Eunice” after the Special Olympics founder.
By pledging to raise a significant donation, charity-sponsored runners could forgo the usual speed qualifications required of most Boston Marathon runners.
Sue’s first instinct was to delete the email. But she glanced up and saw a photo of Eunice Kennedy Shriver smiling down on her. Almost before she knew it, she was filling out the online application form.
I grew up watching the marathon, always being on the sidelines but never in the game,” she said. “But I had a choice. Many folks with intellectual disabilities wouldn’t have a choice. Without something like Special Olympics, they’d always be on the sidelines. So I thought, let’s raise some money to get them in the game.”
A phone interview came next – and just before Thanksgiving, Sue received word that she’d been accepted. She began a rigorous training schedule almost immediately. A friend provided coaching and tips, and Sue used Runkeeper smartphone app to schedule her workouts and track progress.
All through the cold New England winter, Sue devoted herself to training. Treadmill runs, outdoor track runs, and grueling uphill runs were all a part of her weekday regimen. Saturdays were reserved for long training runs.
It hasn’t all gone smoothly. She pulled a hamstring in December. It healed, but still bothers her. She ran a half-marathon in March and tweaked her back. Still she is facing the 26.2-mile race this month with excitement – thanks in large measure to the enthusiastic support of friends, family, and co-workers in Life Sciences.
“The outpouring of donations and good wishes has been so humbling,” she said. “It just amazes me. Everyone has been so generous – and the more we raise, the more we can help people participate in Special Olympics. That’s the thing I’m proud of most.”
The Massachusetts chapter of Special Olympics has nearly 12,000 athletes ranging in age from 2 to 104. The group offers participation in more than 24 sports. A wide variety of related services – like health screening and public education about intellectual disabilities – help create a well-rounded, year-round program.
“If there’s one word I could use about Special Olympics, it’s inclusion’ – giving opportunity to people who might not otherwise have it,” Sue said. “That’s what it’s all about.”