By Mike LaBella
---- — Kevin Belanger’s running gear includes one item he must have on every training run and every road race he competes in.
It’s a treasured item he wears in memory of his sister. It can’t be replaced and Belanger wears it proudly.
”I have been serious about my training and running over the past couple years, always wearing Denise’s cancer cap, taking her with me on each and every run. She will be with me for every stride of this 26.2 mile journey,” Belanger said about his plans to run in this year’s Boston Marathon.
Belanger, a former college baseball player and a popular youth soccer, hockey and baseball coach in Haverhill for many years, will run the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to downtown Boston in memory of his sister.
”This cause is very important to me,” Belanger said about his efforts to raise money for the Melanoma Foundation of New England as a member of its running team, Running for Cover, which he joined this year.
”I lost my younger sister three years ago to melanoma,” Belanger notes on his Running for Cover fundraising website. “Denise, a 44-year-old mother of three when she was diagnosed, passed less than a year later.”
Belanger, 50, of Haverhill said that prior to being diagnosed with melanoma, his sister worked for Unison Industries, a division of General Electric, in Jacksonville, Florida, where she introduced and chaired a successful Relay for Life campaign for the American Cancer Society.
”Denise was recognized by GE for her tireless efforts and amazing accomplishment in getting this campaign started at her company,” he said. “Her co-workers continue the annual campaign, paying her efforts forward. I was so inspired by both her battle and amazing accomplishment that I have decided to pick up her torch and willingness to help others as well.”
Belanger said that when he puts on his sister’s cap, he feels as though she’s with him.
”I wear it to keep her memory alive and I draw strength from it,” Belanger said.
Belanger’s long-time friend John Molori of Methuen said he is always in awe of Belanger’s determination.
”I marvel at what Kevin does,” Molori said. “I get on the treadmill for a half-hour a day and I think I’ve accomplished something.”
Molori said he’s reaching out to friends and colleagues in hopes they will support Belanger.
”I know that this means a lot to him, so anything I can do to help I’m glad to do,” Molori said. “He looks at this as carrying on his sister’s work. Before she got sick she helped a lot people.”
Belanger said melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and is the second most common cancer in people ages 15 to 29.
”When caught early, it is almost always curable,” he said. “MFNE’s mission is to reduce the incidence of melanoma in the New England region.
”The 26.2 miles is the least I can do, but I need your help in getting to the finish line,” Belanger said of his hope people will donate to his cause.
Legendary runner Bill Rodgers is honorary team captain for MFNE’s race team Running for Cover.
Belanger met Rodgers at a recent team meeting, where he gave the group a few tips on running the Boston Marathon.
”He told us to pace ourselves, try not to get out of the gate too quick, and not to attack the downhills too quickly or else you’ll pay for it at mile 17 and Heartbreak Hill,” Belanger said.
Belanger said he will also be running in honor of Cathy Shea Sonnenberg, a volunteer with the Melanoma Foundation who was diagnosed with melanoma in 2011 and continues to receive support from the foundation in her battle.
Since its inception in 2006, team Running for Cover has raised more than $1 million for the Melanoma Foundation of New England.
To donate to Belanger’s fundraising effort, visit www.razoo.com and search for “Kevin Belanger.” Checks made out to MFNE can be sent to 111 Old Road to Nine Acre Corner, Suite 1005, Concord, MA 01742. Please note Belanger’s name in the memo section.
The largest nonprofit in the region dedicated to skin cancer awareness and early detection, the Melanoma Foundation of New England provides a variety of free education programs targeting the prevention of skin cancer for both children in adults. MFNE also assists patients and their caregivers struggling with melanoma by offering support groups and their “Billy’s Buddies” program. Learn more about MFNE and team Running for Cover at www.mfne.org.
Melanoma Facts Melanoma rates are increasing faster than nearly all other cancers. Relatively easy disease to prevent. Easy to stop if caught soon enough. All it takes is a yearly skin exam. Kills one person every 50 minutes. Most common cancer among women ages 25 to 32. Most common cancer in men over age of 50, more common than colon, prostate, and lung cancer. Second most common cancer in adolescents and young adults ages 15 to 29. As many as 10,000 people a year die from melanoma. SOURCE: Melanoma Foundation of New England