OLD TOWN, Maine — Last fall, Dacie Manion felt helpless as she watched her boyfriend’s father succumb to his long battle with a rare form of cancer.
The 2011 Old Town High School graduate and high school and college cross-country track standout wanted to do something to honor Matt Gilman’s life — but what? Over the months since Gilman’s death at the age of 60, she’s figured that out. Manion, now a junior studying mechanical engineering at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will put on her running shoes on Monday to complete the Boston Marathon with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Marathon Challenge.
“For me, this isn’t really about running for time,” Manion said Friday afternoon in a telephone interview from Boston. “The reason I’m doing this is because for so many years, I’ve been watching the ups and downs. It’s hard to see all of that, and really care about Matt and his family, and not be able to do anything. That’s really what it’s about for me. To finally be able to do something positive, because that’s what Matt would want. Something positive.”
So far, Manion, who will celebrate her 20th birthday on Monday, has raised more than $10,000 for cancer research. She’s also down to just one more training run before the big day, and has already decorated her race singlet with a green ribbon for Gilman, who loved golf. She bought the ribbon last weekend on a visit home to Maine to see her boyfriend of four years, Chris Gilman, who attends Maine Maritime Academy, and his mother, Shelley Gilman. They’ll be heading to Boston to cheer Manion on as she runs her very first marathon.
Shelley Gilman said that Manion’s efforts mean the world to her family — especially because her husband received treatment at Dana-Farber for his neuroendocrine cancer, which already had metastasized by the time he was diagnosed seven years ago.
“They were instrumental in his treatment plan,” she said of the cancer institute. “They were able to extend his life an additional six and a half years after his diagnosis. They did great things for us.”
The fact that Manion has successfully taken on the challenge this semester of training for the marathon and of raising all that money doesn’t surprise Shelley Gilman.
“She’s a leader. She’s very petite — only 5 feet tall — but in her mighty way, she’s trying to do what she can to give back,” Gilman said.
While Manion was in Maine last weekend, she also participated in a special event at the Church of Universal Fellowship in Orono, where the youth group — called Young Adults With Pizzazz — had decided to help her with her fundraising goal over the last few months. Altogether, the youth group raised about $2,000, and ran for a mile with Manion on Sunday morning at the Orono High School track before entering the church in celebration.
Manion, whose tears easily rise to the surface when she’s talking about Matt Gilman, said she was grateful to have the chance to thank the youth group members and others in Maine for their efforts.
“Everyone has been really, really supportive,” she said.
Matt Gilman learned just before his death that Manion was hoping to run on the cancer research team, and she said that has meant a lot to her over her months of training. The Old Town man who worked for 40 years for John T. Cyr and Sons was quiet, she said, and loved all manner of sports.
“The biggest thing that I think about is just how positive he was,” she said. “They’re a very positive and optimistic family. It’s a big source of strength for them and also for people close to them.”
Manion said that she will have a lot on her mind during the miles of pavement that are awaiting her. She’ll start at the back of the marathon’s third wave, surrounded by other people running for charities.
“I’ll be thinking about everyone in my family and my friends that got me this far,” she said. “I know there will be some tears. I’m hoping I can run through that.”
To help Dacie Manion in her effort to raise money for cancer research, please visit the website: www.rundfmc.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=1078599&supid=387666498