Five-year-old Jack’s favourite Christmas present this year wasn’t cars or trucks or even his much-loved Lego.
It was a marathon medal gifted him by his grandmother.
Jack’s attachment to the green palm tree medal depicting a Reggae Marathon man striking Jamaican Olympic world-record holding sprinter Usain Bolt’s famous “lightning bolt” pose was immediate, even if he doesn’t yet understand its significance.
Last year, Jack’s grandmother Liz Magera raised $10,725 in just a few months to run the 10 kilometre course as part of the Canadian Liver Foundation’s Lace Up for Liver team’s entry in the Dec. 1 Reggae Marathon in Negril, Jamaica.
Magera ran for Jack.
Jack was born with biliary atresia, a relatively rare disease in which the bile duct outside the liver that carries bile from the liver to the small intestine is damaged. It affects one in every 10,000 to 20,000 infants shortly after birth.
Jack responded well to a surgical procedure that removed the damaged bile duct and replaced it with a new drainage system made from a piece of small intestine. But doctors report he may need a liver transplant in the future.
The liver performs more than 500 functions in the body. Often, people are unaware they have a liver disease until it is too late, the Canadian Liver Foundation reports.
Jack isn’t aware he has a liver disease — “I have tummy issues,” he says — yet the energetic boy wouldn’t part with his marathon medal on Christmas Eve when his grandmother explained she ran and earned it for him.
Magera’s husband, Emil, who walked the 10K, gave his medal to Jack’s younger brother, Christopher, 4.
“They were both very excited and put them on right away. After about a half hour, I noticed that Chris had taken his off. Jack however, wore his all evening,” Magera recalled. “Even when they were getting ready to go home and had put on their pj’s, Jack wanted to wear his.
“They were all dressed in their coats, hats, boots, gloves and ready to leave when Jack panicked and wanted to know where his medal was. We had to undo his coat to reassure him he had his medal on.”
Magera won the medal as one of the seven-member Lace Up for Liver team to run and walk in the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K, which attracted more than 1,400 participants from around the world.
The team raised nearly $38,000 to fund Canadian liver research. Each participant raised $5,500 on average.
Magera ran the 10K with Marsha Doucette, Canadian Liver Foundation (CLF) spokesperson and Toronto regional co-ordinator and Scott Hearn from Grand Falls-Windsor, Nfld., who ran his first race.
Rather than use a starter’s pistol, marathon organizers played Bob Marley’s iconic Jammin’ — to little immediate effect that morning around five.
“No one started sprinting,” Magera recalled last Friday in the living room of her central Etobicoke home. “We’re used to ‘zhoooom’. Everybody was waving at everyone. It wasn’t until we got around the bend in the town of Negril that we saw people running.”
While many ran, including beginner runners, many more than they expected walked the 10K, including Magera’s husband, Emil, CLF Quebec regional co-ordinator Betty Esperanza and Doucette’s father, Richard, a liver transplant recipient in May 2011 following liver cancer the result of liver disease.
“People were coming out of their resorts around 5:15 that morning with their coffee cheering on us,” Magera recalled. “I said to one guy, ‘did you come out here for us? Thank you so much.’”
This year, the Canadian Liver Foundation plans to once again enter a Lace Up for Liver team in the Reggae Marathon, and organize a second fundraising run entry elsewhere in the world.
The hope is to attract Canadians from coast to coast who want to run a race in a beautiful locale, while also raising money to help cure liver disease, Doucette said.
“The Lace Up for Liver program can really make a difference to the Canadian Liver Foundation in the future,” Doucette said. “If 100 people each raise $5,500, that’s a lot of money.
“It’s exciting. We really hope people see this as a way to really make a difference in curing liver disease.”
Magera now encourages others to take on a fundraising cause like she did. Initially, she emailed 136 friends and family requesting support. Many then emailed their contacts, told friends on Facebook and helped spread the word.
“It’s an amazing experience,” she said. “At least once in your life, find something like this you can do with people who share what you feel. Do it when you’re young and you’ll do it more often.”
Visit www.laceupforliver.ca for more information.