Marie Miller has always enjoyed running for fun. Sami Wilson just took it up a couple of years ago — at Miller’s urging.
This summer, the two friends will test the limits of their endurance when they run across the United States.
Miller and Wilson are gearing up to participate in the 4K For Cancer, a 4,000-mile relay from San Francisco to Baltimore. The event, which begins on June 19, benefits the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, based in Baltimore, which focuses on direct patient services.
The race is run in teams, whose members will run two at a time, two miles at a time, alternating along the route.
“There’s 27 people on my team, and every day we’ll have a different running partner, so we’re not running with the same person every day,” said Miller, a native of Blanchard Township in Piscataquis County.
Each team member will run about 10 miles per day, with a rest day built into the schedule every three to six days.
“As a team we’ll cover about 150 miles a day,” Miller said of the seven-week journey, during which the teams will spend the night at YMCAs, churches and other donated spaces.
Miller was selected as a “leg leader” for the run and secured lodging for 10 nights of her team’s trip.
Both women are participating to honor family members who have been affected by cancer.
Miller is running for her late maternal grandfather, Wayne Young, who died of esophageal cancer when she was 12. She said he helped raise her.
“I have multiple family members that have been diagnosed with cancer and fought the disease, but my biggest and first impact with cancer was my grandfather,” she said.
“It really changed my thinking,” Miller said. “I’ve always wanted to do something ever since that happened. I think I finally found my way.”
Wilson, a Bangor native, is running for two family members. Her aunt Carolyn Dorrity died of pancreatic cancer in February.
Wilson’s cousin Jaxson Storm was diagnosed with leukemia at age 4 but is in remission nearly three years later.
“It was really bad,” Wilson said of how the cancer took her aunt, which was a motivator to join 4K For Cancer.
The women took much different paths to running the race.
Miller has always enjoyed running since her days at Foxcroft Academy, where she was a soccer midfielder but only briefly ran competitively.
“Running was something that I did to relax me. It kind of seemed like something for my mental health instead of my physical health,” she said.
Wilson is a latecomer to the activity. She was convinced by Miller to participate in the 2014 Color Run, a 5-kilometer race.
“I was never into sports in high school,” said Wilson, who received encouragement from Miller as she learned to train.
“She was my biggest supporter,” she added. “I’ve been running about four or five times a week and as much as I can. I do about nine miles at once.
Running has helped bring the friends closer together.
“She’s my best friend, and now it’s something else that we can do together. It’s awesome,” Miller said.
One of the prerequisites for running the 4K For Cancer is fundraising. Participants must raise $4,500.
Miller was all set on that count. She was signed up to do it last year but was forced to undergo knee surgery for a genetic condition.
She put on a spaghetti dinner at the Goodwill Riders Snowmobile Club building in Hampden that accounted for $2,500 of her goal. The facility, the food and drinks and the silent auction items all were donated.
She also held bake sales and bottle drives and made and sold Christmas wreaths.
“I was so grateful,” Miller said. “I had a lot of family and friends that helped me.”
Wilson also sponsored a successful spaghetti supper that netted more than $1,500 toward her goal. She conducted a gift card raffle and had a collection box at Spotlight Cinemas and Pat’s Pizza in Orono and did other small projects.
The recovery and rehabilitation period after Miller’s May 2015 surgery meant she was forced to defer her acceptance in the 4K For Cancer until this year. She has bounced back better than expected.
“The surgeon said, ‘You might not ever run more than a 5K without it hurting,’” Miller said. “Now I’m running up to 12 or 13 miles, but I’m running without pain, so I feel awesome.”
The women have made other sacrifices in order to run the 4K For Cancer. Both have given up their jobs.
Miller, a 2015 University of Maine graduate who works for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and volunteers with the Christine B. Foundation, believes making the run is worth it.
“I think it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I didn’t want to give it up,” she said.
Wilson walked away from her jobs at Spotlight Cinemas and at the Black Bear Inn in Orono.
Remembering people who have battled cancer is a central theme of the run. Miller plans to take along photos of her loved ones.
The teams will have more obvious acknowledgement of those affected by cancer.
“Every single day, everybody on the team dedicates a day of their running to someone or multiple people,” Miller said, “and we write the names of those people on the back of our legs. That’s who we’re thinking about when we’re running.”
Wilson said the women will run through some interesting places, including the Rocky Mountains and two national parks. On their rest days, participants will visit cancer patients and their families.
“The first thing we do is run across the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m pretty excited about that,” said Wilson, who hopes the experience might help enlighten her about her future.
“Hopefully being able to visit hospitals and the cancer centers and places like that might help me find some sort of a career path.”