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New Windsor man with terminal brain cancer fulfills Marine Corps Marathon dream thanks to friends, family

New Windsor resident Francis Moats completed the final two-tenths of a mile of a marathon Sunday, Aug. 23 in Winfield. Moats planned on competing in the Marine Corps Marathon this year before diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in May, so his friends and family brought the race to him.
New Windsor resident Francis Moats completed the final two-tenths of a mile of a marathon Sunday, Aug. 23 in Winfield. Moats planned on competing in the Marine Corps Marathon this year before diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in May, so his friends and family brought the race to him. (Courtesy Photo/Valerie Rockwood Photography)

Francis Moats had a goal to participate in this year’s Marine Corps Marathon before life got in the way.

Moats, a 36-year-old New Windsor resident and an avid runner in recent years, was diagnosed in May with terminal brain cancer. That dashed his plans to compete in the annual 26.2-mile race, one of the largest such events in the world (close to 30,000 runners traveled the course in Washington, D.C., and Virginia last year).

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The 2020 Marine Corps Marathon, slated for Oct. 23-25, recently switched to all-virtual status amid the coronavirus pandemic. Moats had this year’s marathon on his bucket list, so his friends and family brought the race to him instead.

The plan came together quickly. Heidi Burnett, like Moats an Eldersburg Rogue Runners club member, spearheaded the idea and helped create a 5-mile loop course in the Winfield area for people to use. Moats’ health was declining, after three surgeries to try and thwart the glioblastoma that had attacked his brain.

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Glioblastoma is an aggressive form of cancer than can occur in the brain or spinal cord. The cancer can be difficult to treat, and a cure is not often possible.

Moats, with marathons and ultra-marathons (anything longer than the traditional 26.2 miles) on his running resume, was determined to be healthy enough to participate in the 2020 Marine Corps race. When that wasn’t possible, Burnett and friends sprang into action.

“It was an incredible experience. The energy from the community was unbelievable,” Burnett said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”

Eldersburg Rogue Runners members pose for a photo with New Windsor resident Francis Moats, who completed the final two-tenths of a mile of a marathon Sunday, Aug. 23 in Winfield. Moats, shown seated holding a poster, planned on competing in the Marine Corps Marathon this year before diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in May, so his friends and family brought the race to him.
Eldersburg Rogue Runners members pose for a photo with New Windsor resident Francis Moats, who completed the final two-tenths of a mile of a marathon Sunday, Aug. 23 in Winfield. Moats, shown seated holding a poster, planned on competing in the Marine Corps Marathon this year before diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in May, so his friends and family brought the race to him. (Courtesy Photo/Valerie Rockwood Photography)

More than 100 people showed up early Sunday morning to run, bike, or jog their way around the makeshift course. Moats got a chance to complete the final two-tenths of a mile, with help from a team captain from Athletes Serving Athletes ― a Baltimore-based group that strives to help with disabilities stay involved with sports.

ASA donated the jogger Moats sat in, Burnett said, and those who finished the marathon ran beside him and his family.

After that came a surprise ― Marine Corps Marathon race director Rick Nealis presented Moats with a finisher’s medal for his performance, and told the crowd that only a small number of people ever receive such an award.

“It was awesome. Humbling,” Moats said. “It’s a huge deal.”

Susan Moats, Francis’ mother, said her son has been overwhelmed with the recent outpouring they’ve seen.

“It was an amazing day. ... So much love there,” she said. “Still hard to have a conversation without crying about it.”

Because of Francis Moats’ recent brain surgeries, his sound sensitivity posed a potential challenge. But Burnett said everyone in attendance did their best to support Moats with as little noise as possible.

“The amount of people that came, it was just incredible,” Burnett said. “It was very inspiring. Watching his face, he was so happy.”

Burnett said Nealis bent the rules a bit and was OK with allowing Moats to receive a finisher’s medal, providing that at least one person completed the marathon Sunday. People came out to participate in such a run for the first time, Burnett said, just to be sure Moats achieved his goal.

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“People did this out of the kindness of their hearts for Francis because he means so much to us,” said Burnett, a marathon veteran who knows the feeling of being supported by a crowd of people during her races. There wasn’t that sort of atmosphere during Sunday’s event, but nobody seemed to mind.

“To know that these people were going to do that for their very first and not have any of that,” Burnett said, “that’s really special.”

Marine Corps Marathon race director Rick Nealis gives Francis Moats his finisher's medal Sunday, Aug. 23 in Winfield.
Marine Corps Marathon race director Rick Nealis gives Francis Moats his finisher's medal Sunday, Aug. 23 in Winfield. (Courtesy Photo/Creative Phocus Photography)

The more than 100 people who signed up for the event logged their share of miles ― Burnett said the race totaled a combined 8 miles from people walking, 203.62 miles of biking and 697.85 miles of running.

The experience had Jane Linde, co-owner of Tri Sport Junction in Sykesville and former president of Eldersburg Rogue Runners, in awe of the attendance and its impact on Moats.

“It was pretty incredible just to sit back and watch, watch this group of people who had worked tremendously hard to get him here,” Linde said. “And to see his face as he crossed that finish line.”

Linde said she met Moats about seven years ago when he decided to give club running a try. Moats, a Linganore High School graduate, recalled the first time he felt it was time for a lifestyle change.

Moats said he remembers getting ready for the start of deer season by taking a short walk to a nearby tree stand when he noticed something ― he was winded.

“I thought, I’m 29, walking three-quarters of a mile, and I’m out of breath?” Moats said. “Something’s got to change.”

Running became a passion, and soon Moats was involved as anyone within the running club. He took part in charity runs, and helped raise funds for others. Moats also lent his talents to Maryland Trek with Justin Berk, an annual cross-state hiking and cycling trip that raises money and awareness for children with cancer.

Moats’ health is failing, but his spirit seems to be strong. Burnett said doctors gave him two weeks to live after his most recent surgery on Aug. 1, but Moats has surpassed that timeline (he’s currently receiving hospice care).

Sunday’s event restored a lot of people’s faith, Burnett said.

“When [Moats] got in the van to leave, he said, ‘Heidi, thank you so much for putting this on. I can’t wait until I feel 100% so we can run this together,’ ” Burnett said. “He’s holding onto all of this energy and positivity, and I think that’s wonderful.”

Friends and family show their support for New Windsor resident Francis Moats as he competes in a marathon Sunday, Aug. 23 in Winfield. Moats planned on competing in the Marine Corps Marathon this year before diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in May, so his friends and family brought the race to him.
Friends and family show their support for New Windsor resident Francis Moats as he competes in a marathon Sunday, Aug. 23 in Winfield. Moats planned on competing in the Marine Corps Marathon this year before diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in May, so his friends and family brought the race to him. (Courtesy Photo/Valerie Rockwood Photography)

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