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Runner with a cause

The Baltimore Sun

Ben Levin could have run in the Boston Marathon yesterday. But for the first-team All-Metro wrestler from McDonogh, running in Boston or New York or any other glamorous marathon would not have as much meaning as the race he is running this weekend.

Levin and his father, Phil, will run Saturday in the Country Music Marathon, in Nashville, Tenn., carrying with them the names of Patty Bakewell and Lena Woody, mothers of a coach and teammate of Levin's who are breast cancer survivors, and raising money for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

"It's just that for me, the thing that keeps me going is running for a cause. It pushes me through the whole thing," said Levin, 18.

As a 12-year-old, Levin, who will attend the Naval Academy Preparatory School in the fall, ran in a marathon to memorialize Darin Pontell, a Naval Academy graduate who died at the Pentagon during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Last year, he ran in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington to raise money for the Injured Marine Fund, collecting more than $8,000. Levin said he has raised about half of the $20,000 goal he has set for Saturday.

"He does it all the time, and that's a blessing," said teammate Albert Woody, whose mother, Lena, was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer. "Someone who is willing to do that for another individual, that shows how much they care and not just about my mother, but for anyone."

The McDonogh wrestling team, which finished the season ranked No. 1 with a 19-3 meet record, got a jolt last summer when it was revealed that both Woody and Patty Bakewell, mother of assistant coach Joe Bakewell, had breast cancer.

"It's been a long road," said Albert Woody, 16, who has an 11-year-old brother. "My mother is a perfect person. She's a paradigm of perseverance. She's taught me and my family, all of us, just because she has something, that's not going to hold her down."

For Joe Bakewell, a native of Elizabeth, Pa., a town 30 minutes south of Pittsburgh, the struggle has been made tougher by the fact that his mother is back in Pennsylvania, at least a four-hour drive away.

"It's been a tough year," said Bakewell, who has been at McDonogh for 14 years. "But it's been a good year because with great support and good attitude, we've been very successful in fighting it. It's amazing what they've been able to do today with research."

Patty Bakewell and Lena Woody have made it through radiation and chemotherapy sessions that, among other things, caused their hair to fall out. But there they were during the season, sitting together, laughing together, wearing hats and forging a bond of friendship.

"They became great friends this year," Joe Bakewell said. "They've probably talked once a week. It was good for them to have somebody to talk to about what they're going through."

In turn, their sons became lifelines for each other, and the team threw its arms around Albert Woody and Joe Bakewell, because their fight, while unique, is also universal, since everyone knows someone who has been touched by breast cancer.

"Two very important moms to our wrestling family were diagnosed, so that heightened awareness right away for our team," coach Pete Welch said. "Our team bonded together really quickly."

The McDonogh wrestlers wore Livestrong hats and ran together in the local Susan G. Komen Race For The Cure in October, but Levin wanted to do more.

"It's simple," Levin said. "You always have your mom, no matter what. The wrestling team is your family and to know that your brother's mom has a pretty bad disease, it really hurts. That's why I'm doing it. Hopefully, it works out."

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