Running doesn't have to be about winning races. Just ask this eclectic group of runners.
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DICK'S Sporting Goods

Running clubs can feel exclusive and elitist to runners who love the sport but don’t fit the typical profile. The Prospect Park Track Club (PPTC) is different.

Sure, you’ll find the usual bunch of young, sleek speedsters among the club’s hundreds of active members spanning neighborhoods beyond Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

But then you’ll notice something else — something felt more than seen. Everyone seems to feel at home in this club.


“It makes being in a big city feel like a small town,” says Crystal Cun, 32. “Anytime I run in the park, I see a familiar face. You end up doing things with people beyond running.”

PPTC runners hanging out after a run. Photo by Jimmy Leung.

PPTC welcomes and embraces newcomers, whether they’re runners who fall to the back of the pack or ones who stand out for reasons other than their finish times.

And unconventional runners aren’t just accepted — they’re celebrated.

Take Michael Ring, 54, who joined the club in 1991 because he heard the club helped runners get into the New York City Marathon and provided a bus ride to starting line. Over the years, he completed 29 marathons, including ultra-marathons on half a day’s notice.

Then, in 2014, he had a stomach virus that turned into acute motor axonal neuropathy, a severe version of Guillain-Barré syndrome, causing his immune system to attack his nervous system, which led to muscle weakness and paralysis.

“I went from marathon-ready to quadriplegic in three days,” says Ring.

He was hospitalized for four-and-a-half months. But during that time, PPTC members visited him in the hospital almost daily, and afterward, they rallied around him as he fought his way back to the starting line.

Ring running the 2017 NYC Marathon. Photo courtesy of Michael Ring.

Ring says he isn’t religious, “but my running friends did what church friends would do. I had my own community.” PPTC member Nicoletta Nerangis even became his “running social worker,” helping him navigate the new world of being a disabled athlete.

In 2017, Ring finished his 30th marathon — his first since his illness — alongside his teenage son Nicholas and Nerangis. Some PPTC members jumped in and walked beside Ring for a couple miles, while others formed a special cheering section for him at the finish line after nightfall, more than nine hours after the start.

Ring at the 2017 NYC Marathon finish line. Photo by Amy Sowder.

“It was amazing,” says Ring. This club offers the kind of support that’s rare to find anywhere else.

Chaya Wolf, 34, joined PPTC in 2013 because hardly any women in her Orthodox Jewish community ran and she craved company on her runs.

“I was looking for people who spoke my language outside the Jewish community,” says Wolf. “For me, joining the club was the best thing that ever happened. I don’t know what I would do without my running buddies.”

Wolf organizes strength training sessions for the club, and she loves running on weekdays and competing in Sunday races. (Saturdays are out because that’s the Jewish Sabbath.)

Since her faith has a strong tradition of modesty, requiring women to cover their collarbones, elbows, and knees at all times, Wolf wears black leggings under sporty skirts when she runs. While other runners have noticed her somewhat different running ensemble, it breeds conversations about her faith rather than scrutiny.

Wolf (second from the left) with her running mates. Photo via Chaya Wolfe.

“It’s cool. I stick out, and I embrace it,” says Wolf. “And that’s what I love about PPTC — it’s such an all-inclusive community of diversity.”

Not only are PPTC members of varying abilities and faiths, their ages fall on a wide spectrum.

When Lisa Maya Knauer started jogging in the early '70s, women’s running shoes weren’t even available in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Like most female runners back then, Knauer had to wear men’s running shoes or generic women’s sneakers. The market for this kind of shoe was just starting: In fact, women weren’t even acknowledged in the Boston Marathon until 1972.

Still, Knauer jogged off and on over the next four decades, until her friend Murray Rosenblith encouraged her to join his PPTC running club. Knauer was 58. Her first run with the club was the Dyker Heights Lights Run in 2015, which goes through an elaborate holiday light display. Afterward, people meet for a drink in a warm bar.

Members of PPTC on a winter run. Photo courtesy of Lisa Maya Knauer.

“Someone brought cookies, and I thought that was really sweet. There was this camaraderie. I got this great sense of this club being very supportive,” says Knauer.

Knauer, now 61, has led club fun runs to restaurants and to see fireworks on the beach. She started a subgroup within PPTC, the Slow-and-Steady Runners, for runners who worry about not being able to keep up with the pack at the club’s other group runs.

The club’s support even helped her meet her goal of running a marathon before she turned 60. Now she’s training for her fourth.  

PPTC makes it clear that running is for anyone and everyone — and at its core, it’s about bringing people together to joyfully move as one.

Photo via Chaya Wolf.

Many of these PPTC members would’ve continued to jog alone like they did before they learned of the club if not for that smile from someone in a PPTC shirt at a race’s starting corral or the shouts of encouragement from a cluster of red-shirted hooligans on the sidelines.

These highly competitive people accept that everyone is an equally valued team player in PPTC. Sure, beating your personal-best time is important, but so is enjoying those you meet along the way. Exclusivity isn't cool.

“When you wear the PPTC shirt at a race, you always have a friend, even if you go there alone,” says Ring. “It’s an amazing cross section of Brooklyn people of every age, ability, race, and sexual orientation.

“We’re just people — people who like to run.”

This story was produced as part of a campaign called "17 Days" with DICK'S Sporting Goods. These stories aim to shine a light on real occurrences of sports bringing people together.

via KTLA 5 / YouTube

A little after 7:30 on Tuesday night, Los Angeles County Sheriffs received multiple reports about a herd of cows running through the streets of Pico Rivera, a city 11 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

This Twitter video does a perfect job of encapsulating the surprise residents felt when they saw 40 cows running through their quiet suburban neighborhood.

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via KTLA 5 / YouTube

A little after 7:30 on Tuesday night, Los Angeles County Sheriffs received multiple reports about a herd of cows running through the streets of Pico Rivera, a city 11 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

This Twitter video does a perfect job of encapsulating the surprise residents felt when they saw 40 cows running through their quiet suburban neighborhood.

Keep Reading Show less
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Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."