Going the extra mile

Some run in marathons for glory and bragging rights. Others run because it’s fun. For James Whelan, he is going the extra mile by not only running in the Boston Marathon this April to raise money for children suffering from pediatric cancer, but donating $5 of his own money for every $50 donation raised.

“I don’t want people to think I was just asking for money with this run,” he explained. “I wanted to show I was putting in the effort. It’s not about me, it is about these kids.”

Whelan, 23, said his reason for donating and running in the marathon was because he wanted to make a difference in the lives of these children. He has had family members who are fighting or have died of cancer and knows classmates who are survivors. His mother, Lisa, who works as a nurse at Mass General Brigham, tells Whelan stories of those who are suffering from cancer every night when she comes home from work.

“I want to tell these children that you are not alone and you can’t give up now,” Whelan said. “If I can run a marathon and not give up on these kids, I can show them you can fight too.”

Despite his set goal, Whelan will need to raise more money to ensure he can keep the donation chain alive during the marathon. To raise money for donations, Whelan has a website and is considering holding silent auctions and raffles to get people engaged in his cause.

“I need to raise a minimum of $75,000,” said Whelan. “I know I only have three months to go but if you were in my shoes, you would be amazed just how fast time flies.”

After graduating from Endicott College in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in economics and a minor in finance, Whelan started working at Mass General Brigham, helping children who are suffering from pediatric cancer. He learned about the marathon through an Instagram post and signed up to be part of the Mass General Brigham team. As part of the training regiment, runners do three-to-four-mile runs a day, ab and core exercises and even a 5k run.

When it comes to marathons, this will be Whelan’s first. He took up running last year as a way not only to help him stay physically healthy, but mentally healthy.

“There’s a zen when it comes to running,” Whelan said. “I ran to get out of the house during the COVID-19 pandemic and it helped me stay in the present. I would usually run around the lake in Wakefield as it would be a five-mile run.”

Whelan’s friends and family are also supporting his mission to run in the marathon. One of Whelan’s biggest supporters is his father, Daniel Whelan, who is described as his “coach.”

“My dad, when he found out I was running, was kind of surprised,” Whelan said, laughing. “He has always been there for me though. Whenever I went out for a run he would ask how many miles I ran and had encouraged me to keep going with my running.”

When asked about any worries he has about the marathon, Whelan said he was a little intimidated about the infamous Heartbreak Hill.

That said, he believes that if he can conquer Heartbreak Hill, it will send a message to the children he is raising money for — that the climb may be an uphill battle, but you can conquer no matter the circumstances.

“This marathon is not for me,” he said. “As a kid, you don’t realize about the treatments and experiences. I hope to make a difference not just for my peers, but for these kids.”