It was always about the cause.
Not the running, not the feat, not the support, not even the glamor and admiration around campus. For New York City Marathon finisher Ryan O’Rourke, the race was never a journey to 26.2 miles; it was about supporting the cause.
O’Rourke, a senior at Springfield College, ran the race in support of the Children’s Tumor Foundation after finding out that his high school basketball coach was running for that same reason. So when O’Rourke took the starting line on the chilly Sunday, November 2nd morning, not only was a blue “Children’s Tumor Foundation” shirt displayed proudly across his chest, but also the name of his coach’s daughter, who suffers from neurofibromatosis.
“You remember how gifted we are in this life,” O’Rourke said. “People still ask me ‘Has it hit you yet?’ and it really hasn’t because it’s always been about the cause of raising money for this foundation, not about me accomplishing a feat.”
O’Rourke took that feat 26.2 miles through the building-lined streets and avenues of Manhattan, alongside the water and over bridges until he finally reached his destination in historic Central Park.
Knowing that he was not going to contest the elite runners for the top spot in the race, O’Rourke simply soaked in the experience of running such a prestigious race, stopping to see family and friends along the way, taking pictures, and even video-chatting with his girlfriend, Melissa Milich, at one point.
And for a task that, to many, seems like a daunting one, it appeared to be almost a pleasure for O’Rourke.
“I could never compare this to anything I’ve done in my life; it was so much fun. And people look at me like I have six heads when I say running 26.2 miles is fun,” he said.
To add to the experience, O’Rourke had quite the supporter’s section waiting for him as he was starting to “die out,” as he put it. Among these supporters were Milich and her family, as well as a handful of friends from Springfield who came along to support him.
“It was his accomplishment, but it felt like the family’s accomplishment,” said Maggie O’Rourke, Ryan’s sister.
To the surprise of likely no one, O’Rourke’s journey to New York was not a simple or quick one. Over the summer his training consisted of running three to four times a week and keeping his nutrition intact as well. Once school came into play, however, and class and outside activities became a factor, he had to perform a balancing act of running two to three times a week, as well as keeping his nutrition in check with the constant temptation of the unhealthy “college diet.”
But the entire time, O’Rourke just thought of the body he has been fortunate enough to have and to use it to its full capability. And in doing that, he granted himself an opportunity that is second to none.
“It was incredible. Not only that I got to share this experience with many of my former coaches and community members but then hearing the stories of the other members who were running for the charity,” O’Rourke said.
“These kids go through a battle every day, and if I can’t go through a battle for five and a half hours, I would feel like I was letting those kids down. I don’t feel like I could have done it if I wasn’t running for a foundation with such an unbelievable cause,” he added.
The entire foundation raised over $200,000 through the race, and since O’Rourke has returned to campus, he admits that it still has not sunk in yet that he has completed such a feat. Either way, it was always about the cause.