On September 13, Sandy Freiberg ran a marathon to honor his brother, Evan Freiberg, who is in his fifth year of cancer treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering. Only Sandy didn’t run the race among a pack of people and with great fanfare at the finish line. He ran 26.2 miles entirely on his own.
Sandy had signed up to run the 2020 TCS New York City Marathon with Fred’s Team, one of MSK’s fundraising programs. Like many other in-person events this year, the race was canceled because of ongoing health and safety concerns brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite this, Sandy doubled down on his determination to run and raise money to support cancer research at MSK. “I’ve never run a marathon before,” says Sandy, who is a teacher in Beverly, Massachusetts. “But when I think of my brother, he runs a marathon every day — that’s how I look at it.” Evan has leiomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that arises from and affects smooth muscle cells.
When registering for an event with Fred’s Team — named after running legend and co-founder of the New York City Marathon Fred Lebow — each runner can direct their fundraising dollars to support a specific area of research or cancer type, such as brain, breast, lung, or pediatric cancers. The money that Sandy raises this year will support leiomyosarcoma research. Since 1995, Fred’s Team has raised nearly $90 million for MSK.
As this year is the 25th anniversary of Fred’s Team, the 2020 TCS New York City Marathon was set to be the pinnacle of celebration for the MSK community — nearly 1,000 Fred’s Team runners were slated to make their way through the five boroughs on Sunday, November 1.
Fred’s Team members have shown inspiring resilience and remained steadfast in their dedication, quickly pivoting to adjust to the new reality. In the spring, as major events around the world began to be canceled or postponed, MSK harnessed the power of digital apps and social media to bring the Fred’s Team community online.
Through Strava (an activity-tracking app), Instagram, and other platforms, runners from around the world have stayed connected to one another, gotten training and fundraising tips from Fred’s Team coaches and mentors, and shared their ongoing commitment to supporting cancer research. Fred’s Team also created a virtual training guide and established its Virtual Running Buddy program, through which participants are matched with fellow teammates to train together even while apart. In a survey sent to participants in the fall, more than half of respondents said they planned to run virtual races and were interested in continuing to fundraise.
In addition to running with Fred’s Team, Sandy and his family members are veterans of Cycle for Survival. They have participated in the indoor team cycling event and fundraiser since 2017. As a radiologist and scientist himself, Evan understands how important fundraising is for cancer research, especially when it comes to rare diseases like the one he is facing. Factor in the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in potential reductions in overall fundraising, and the money raised through programs like Fred’s Team and Cycle for Survival is even more significant — and that is what motivated Sandy to stay the course, in both his commitment to train and during his solo marathon.
“When I was running and my legs started to hurt, I reminded myself that my brother has lost a leg to cancer already,” says Sandy. “I feared my stomach being upset, and I just recall Evan telling me how the chemo makes his stomach so upset. I just knew he was there with me, pushing me to keep going.”
Fred’s Team is proof that a strong, close-knit community can continue to make a difference. Even in the absence of in-person events, the dedication of Sandy and other Fred’s Team members have brought hope to countless people around the world.