Bruce Cleland's 5-year-old daughter had just completed two years of treatment for leukemia when he decided to raise a little money to help others affected by the disease. He asked some friends in New York to train for a marathon with him and collect some pledges from others.
The response overwhelmed them: About three dozen people brought in $320,000.
That was 1988. Now, those in Cleland's training and fundraising program are easy to spot in the nation's biggest running and biking races. The 39,000 who sign up annually are set apart by their purple Team in Training T-shirts that often include messages scrawled on the back to honor or remember a loved one with cancer. And the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the program's beneficiary, counts the effort as its biggest fundraiser, with proceeds of about $110 million a year.
Team in Training is not alone. Such efforts to raise money for health-related organizations are now intertwined with running and walking events that are common in U.S. cities in the fall. Some groups, such as Cleland's, require participants in dozens of races to fund raise while they train. Others races, such as Race for the Cure to benefit breast cancer research on Oct. 19 in Hunt Valley, were created to raise money through registration fees. All told, the 200 largest running and walking races in 2006 produced $714 million in proceeds for a variety of causes, according to the latest figures from racing association USA Track & Field.
Cleland says racing and fundraising fit naturally together because people "feel passionate about both." Plus, he said, people are more motivated to get in shape when others are depending on them - both the recipients of the money and fellow trainees.
"Many of the Team in Training people are first-time marathoners. These are people who are probably not athletes. They probably could never have imagined they could complete a marathon, and it sends chills down their spine when they finish because they feel so accomplished," he said. "People put their hearts and souls into it and they put the same effort into raising money. There is such a sense of joy in both."
In exchange for raising funds - about $1,600 for Baltimore-area residents running in the Baltimore Running Festival on Saturday - Team in Training provides four months to five months of personalized training in groups led by coaches. For a little extra fundraising, the group also provides lodging and airfare to one of about 60 out-of-town competitions, including running and biking races and triathlons.
Cleland lives in Ruxton and plans to run the Baltimore marathon along with about 180 other Team in Training participants. His daughter Georgia, now 25, will be on hand to officially start the race.
In all, there will be about 770 people running for various charities this year in Baltimore, said Gene Brtalik, spokesman for Corrigan Sports Enterprises, which organizes the festival.
Like most major races, the Baltimore festival will contribute some of its registration fees to health-related charities. Together with runners who did their own fundraising through training groups, the event generated $620,000 for various groups last year, and in the past four years, they have brought in more than $4 million.
For the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the nearly $1 billion raised by Team in Training in the past 20 years has been crucial to advances in blood cancer research and drugs that mean, for example, that the chances of surviving chronic myelogenous leukemia has increased to 95 percent from 55 percent, said Andrea Greif, spokeswoman for the group
"The celebration of the 20th anniversary of Team in Training has been an opportunity to recognize the impact that 20 years of this program has had on the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, on the blood cancer research community, on patients and their families, and on the world of endurance sports," she said. "Team in Training has been the engine that has driven [the society's] progress over the past 20 years, including the creation of some of its most ambitious research grant initiatives and patient support services."
For more information about Team in Training, go to teamintraining.org.