Wrentham Native Laces Up for a Virtual Boston MarathonAug 31, 2020 08:24AM ● By Grace Allen
It won’t be the Boston Marathon she planned and trained for, but like everyone else Gianna Bender has had to adapt in these challenging times. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Wrentham native will be running in a reimagined, virtual Boston Marathon this month instead of in the iconic race usually held on Patriot’s Day in April.
There will be no crowds cheering her on, no post-marathon celebration with her team. Even her pre-pandemic goal to run under 3:30 no longer really matters. Instead, Bender’s primary focus will be on why she is running: to raise money for Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and to honor the memory of a high school friend.
Bender is a pediatric hematology-oncology nurse at Boston Children’s Hospital. By participating in the lifesaving work that goes on there every day, Bender understands how important it is to fundraise for cancer research. Her patients, she says, are the motivation behind her desire to run Boston.
“I feel so privileged to care for the children and families on the oncology unit,” said the former collegiate runner. “Their strength and ability to be courageous, despite their circumstances, is inspiring.”
The memory of a high school friend has also factored heavily in Bender’s desire to run the Boston Marathon. King Philip HighSchool classmate Henry Carr, who graduated with Bender in 2015, passed away from osteosarcoma in 2017.
“I’m also running in memory of Henry and it’s been really special to be able to honor him in this way,” said Bender.
Bender, who was the salutatorian of her high school graduating class, went on to study nursing at Boston College’s Connell School of Nursing. She had always wanted to become a doctor, but after listening to her friend Henry describe the dynamic he had with his nurses, she changed her mind.
“I started to think maybe I was more suited to nursing because of the relationships you form with patients, and how much time you spend with them,” she explained. “I felt that was more geared towards what I wanted to do.”
In addition to her nursing studies, Bender was part of the women’s track and field program while at Boston College. She ran the 9th fastest 1000-meter run in school history and competed in 7 ACC Championships. During her senior year, she was captain of both the indoor and outdoor track teams.
In late May, the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) announced that the 124th Boston Marathon (originally scheduled for April 20) would be held virtually in September. Participants must run the 26.2 miles in one shot, choosing a day between September 7 and 14 to run. After providing proof of time to the B.A.A., finishers will receive a medal and racing bib.
Running Boston has always been a goal, said Bender. She admits training has been tough, especially since the marathon date has changed. She had almost completed her training for an April race when she had to stop and refocus on a later date, essentially training for two marathons just months apart.
“I’ve never had to do runs this long, ever,” the 23-year-old explained, noting she was a mid-distance runner in college. “With nursing you’re on your feet all day long so the two together can wear you down. I definitely have some tweaks and pains leftover from college, but I know how to take care of my body and recovery is important.”
Entrants in this year’s virtual Boston Marathon can choose their own course. At press time Bender was considering two options: the official marathon route (from Hopkinton to Boston) or a route in the Wrentham area. If she runs around Wrentham, she may try to finish at the high school to acknowledge and honor her friend Henry and their time together on the KPHS track team.
Regardless which route she chooses, Bender hopes to recruit 26 different friends to each run a mile with her, both for fun and for safety reasons. There will be no EMTs, water stops, or porta potties for this year’s Boston Marathon participants. The logistics of a safe race will fall on the runners themselves, yet another challenge for 2020.
Bender still holds the girls 800 record at King Philip, and she was part of the 4x400 indoor and outdoor school record teams, as well as the record-setting 4x800 indoor and outdoor teams. In her senior year at the high school, the girls indoor track team won the Hockomock League Championships and the D2 State Championship. She was captain of the team both junior and senior years.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, so maybe it is apropos that the pediatric hematology-oncology nurse is running her first Boston Marathon this month instead of back in April. Still, Bender will get a shot at running a “regular” Boston Marathon next year. She met her fundraising goal back in February, so she is automatically offered a bib for the 2021 race.
“I’m planning to run in 2021,” said Bender. “I feel like I need the full experience, and it’s going to a great cause. That’s a good reason to go through all this again.”
Boston Marathon charities are still accepting donations. Visit https://danafarber.jimmyfund.org, choose Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge, and then click on the GIVE button to donate to Bender.