Team DetermiNation races through North Park in lieu of canceled Pittsburgh Marathon

Tawnya Panizzi, The Tribune-Review, Greensburg
·3 min read

May 3—The Pittsburgh Marathon may have been canceled Sunday but not runner Cathy O'Brien's will to compete.

The mother of four from Marshall Township joined an impromptu race at North Park in lieu of the 13-mile half-marathon she trained for.

She was among 10 members of the American Cancer Society's (ACS) Team DetermiNation who hit the pavement near the North Park tennis court at 8 a.m.

Team DetermiNation is the ACS's event endurance program, spanning a variety of sports that include cycling, running, hiking and yoga, among others. Members have become extended family through their training and teamwork, and through their journeys of care-giving.

Each member completed a different number of miles on Sunday, with some running a 5K and others, like O'Brien, doing a half-marathon.

Each one had a different inspiration.

"I run to honor the memory of my husband, Patrick, who passed away in February from bile duct cancer," O'Brien said. "I run for him and for everyone whose life has been affected by this terrible disease."

Derek Long of Pittsburgh's Perry North neighborhood said he wanted to honor his late mother, Wendy, who also passed away from cancer.

"She always made a big deal about being proud of me for raising money and also for running the marathon," said Long, who's competed in six long-distance races.

Gina Zomp of North Huntington runs as a way to stay healthy and make time for herself.

"I decided to join Team DetermiNation because a family member of mine got diagnosed with cancer this past fall and it took me by surprise," Zomp said. "All of us on Team DetermiNation are connected and unfortunately all of us know someone that has been diagnosed with cancer."

Together, Team DetermiNation has raised more than $50,000 to benefit the American Cancer Society.

O'Brien said it was an obvious choice to fundraise for the ACS, members of which helped her navigate her husband's three-year battle with the rare cancer.

When their battle first began, O'Brien said one of the first things she did is study the ACS website which provided resources on treatment, prognosis, family decisions and other issues.

The next thing she did was take a walk.

"I could see how much cancer was taking from his life," she said. "I realized I was letting it do the same thing to me. I decided that I should get out and go for a walk."

After a few weeks, she decided to try to jog. O'Brien, a novice runner, lasted only a few blocks but over the next few months, she worked up to nine miles at a time.

"It was crazy to me and I thought maybe I could do a half-marathon," she said. "It was a no-brainer that I would do it to fundraise for the American Cancer Society."

Her goal of $1,200 was surpassed in one day by $8,000.

O'Brien's husband lived to see her efforts and found it to be a source of joy, she said.

"My husband was a wonderful person," O'Brien said. "The American Cancer Society, the fundraiser and the Pittsburgh Marathon have truly been a lifeline for me over the past year."

For more on Team DetermiNation, visit cancer.org/determination.

Tawnya Panizzi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tawnya at 724-226-7726, tpanizzi@triblive.com or via Twitter .