Kate McCabe / Gavel Media

Beyond Mile 21: For Emma Legault-Laroche, It's More than a Marathon

The long training runs at the heart of Boston Marathon preparation were a little easier for Emma Legault-Laroche. She had a partner. She dedicated her first marathon to the man who used to run with her as a girl — her father. And although he passed away a year and a half ago, he was with her as she ran.  

For Emma, participating in the Boston Marathon meant a whole lot more than running 26.2 miles.  

In fact, after a devastating turn of events that saw Emma have to go to the hospital for emergency appendicitis surgery just over a week away from Marathon Monday, she won’t be able to run at all. But the training she went through, the money she raised, and the passion she put into preparing for this marathon will not go to waste.

Emma chose to do her fundraising for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a cause that she has an intimate personal connection with because of the experiences her family went through when her father was diagnosed with brain cancer. Running this marathon and raising money for Dana-Farber went a whole lot deeper than the physical training. Throughout the process, Emma inspired others to donate over $15,000 dollars.

Though Emma will not be running past BC on Marathon Monday, the work she put in to prepare for the day will not be forgotten.

Emma’s path to the Heights was different than most. She is originally from Montreal, but spent twelve years growing up in Dubai. She has also called Texas and Connecticut home, and now currently resides on Cape Cod.

She has participated in athletics all her life, but Emma is by no means a lifelong runner. During high school, she participated in other sports, including volleyball, softball, and tennis.

“I wasn’t necessarily on a running team,” she says. “I would run for fun, but not competitively. I ran with my dad a lot.”

The Boston Marathon was supposed to be Emma’s first full-length marathon. She ran a half marathon last year, going into the race without nearly as much formal training as she has done for the Boston Marathon. In fact, she went into the half marathon without being told that the first six miles were to be run along the beach—over sand, rather than on the road. She still finished without difficulty. With the formal training regimen that Emma went through leading up to this year’s marathon (comprised of short runs during the week and Saturday long runs), she seemed poised to find success on Marathon Monday.

Choosing Dana-Farber as her charity always seemed like a natural course of action for Emma. She originally set a goal of raising $10,000, and has long since surpassed that benchmark. For her, the bulk of the fundraising came from reaching out to friends, family, and strangers in search of donations.

“A lot of strangers have been reaching out to me and telling me that my story is so inspiring. They all have similar stories; everyone has been touched by cancer in one way or another. I had one donor who gave me $5,000, and I had met him just five minutes before.”

Emma shares a bond with the nearly 500 Dana-Farber team members that goes beyond the race course. That community, along with the support of friends and strangers alike, made the marathon training worth it.

“Seeing the support of people that I don’t even know has been amazing.”

In addition to the marathon training, Emma is involved in a number of other activities around campus. She works with Relay for Life, which held its overnight relay event just a couple weeks ago. She’s also a team manager for the baseball program, and plans to go into sports management after graduation.

Despite the high intensity of her program, Emma had been going through training with relative ease. Other than a couple small injuries that kept her from running for a couple weeks early on, she wasn’t held up by many physical barriers during the process. For her, the most difficult part of the long runs was the mental aspect.

“The worst is mentally getting through the runs. I wouldn’t say I’m a natural runner, so mentally, it’s like, ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I out on a Saturday morning running twenty miles?’”

But those mental challenges simply reminded her why she was running in the first place—her personal connection with Dana-Farber and passion for running for such an important cause just empowered her more during the training process.

“It just reminds me why I’m running it. I’m running it for my dad. If my dad could suffer for a year and a half, I can suffer for 20 miles.”

All of the other Dana-Farber runners have also been an invaluable resource. Emma says that because of the personal nature of her connection to the charity, training for and running the marathon was an extremely emotional experience.

“I’ve been warned by a lot of the people in Dana-Farber that it’s an emotional experience because you’re constantly reminded why you’re running it.” she says. “Yes, it will be emotional, but I think it’s actually going to empower me more. So I’m nervous, but excited about it.”

Listening to Emma talk about Dana-Farber and her reasons for running the marathon is an inspiring experience. Her passion for the cause is contagious, and perhaps that’s why she was able to surpass her fundraising goal by over $5,000. When Emma told her story as the Luminaria speaker at Relay for Life a few weeks ago, there wasn’t a dry eye left in the crowd.

That passion for Dana-Farber and a desire to honor her father’s memory was what led Emma to do something she never thought she would: train for a marathon. Although she wasn’t always a runner, she successfully went through a training program that would be far too intimidating for most anyone else.

Emma Legault-Laroche won’t but running the Boston Marathon this year, but that’s not the important part. Whether it was waking up early for long Saturday runs or braving the fundraising process, Emma has faced every challenge head on—and that’s what really matters.

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