Runner goes the distance – over and over – to fight cancer


Anyone who has battled cancer, or has a loved who has, knows that the journey is a marathon, not a sprint, as Heather Reeb discovered. In memory of her parents, Debbie Maxwell and Rick Holt, who died six years apart from lung cancer that metastasized and moved to their brains, Reeb has been lacing up her running shoes to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Reeb has committed to run in the World Marathon Majors, which includes the Tokyo Marathon, Boston Marathon, TCS London Marathon, BMW Berlin-Marathon, Bank of America Chicago Marathon and TCS New York City Marathon.

She ran the Chicago Marathon in 2012 and the New York Marathon in 2016 and will hit the halfway mark when she heads to London in April. Reeb says she is saving the Boston Marathon for last as it’s such a big deal in the U.S.

“I started running to clear my head,” says Reeb, who initially ran as a way to deal with her grief after her father passed away in 2009.

“It was a good outlet physically for my pain. We call that asphalt therapy for runners because you have that time to shut down and be quiet and free your mind,” she explains.

“I downloaded an app called Couch to 5K. I started off just doing that.”

Her first 5K was the annual United Against Poverty Turkey Trot held each Thanksgiving Day in Vero Beach.

“I wondered what it would be like to go a little bit longer than a 5K, and then I started doing half marathons, and it just grew from there,” she added.

“It became more and more and more, and then I started realizing that it was becoming selfish because when you run, you’re only doing it for yourself. That was when I started thinking about the American Cancer Society.”

The single mother says she keeps going with the support of a wonderful group of friends and her two biggest supporters, sons Carter (18) and Harrison (16).

Reeb says that surrounding herself with like-minded people who are “positive, selfless and understanding” has been motivational.

“To be an endurance athlete takes a ton of mental power. In marathon training, you meet so many people that have recovered from amazing things. It’s not like I’m the only person who uses that as therapy,” says Reeb.

“I’m very open about my journey, not just with the race but with my journey in life. I think people are very receptive to that because people are often afraid to share their pain and sadness. When you have someone willing to share their story, I feel like it opens up the avenue for someone to share theirs.”

Reeb spoke at a Launch Party at American Icon Brewery to advance the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life Indian River, which will be held April 14 at Riverside Park. She also spoke at a recent Gateway to Space 5K/10K held at the Kennedy Space Center.

And she is one of 20 runners selected by the American Cancer Society to represent them in the London Marathon, according to Theresa Woodson, ACS senior community development manager.

Reeb has already exceeded her $10,000 fundraising goal for the London Marathon, which is twice the goals she set in previous races. But with every dollar going to cancer research and support for patients and their families, she hopes to continue raising money.

“Sometimes it’s the little things that make a difference,” says Reeb, recalling her mother’s battle.

“My mom was one tough cookie, a Type-A female. She didn’t expect help from anybody and would never ask for help. When she was losing her beautiful blonde hair, that took a toll on her.”

She says learning that the local ACS office has a room filled with wigs, hats and accessories that cancer patients are welcome to take was a “huge step in her emotional healing.”

“Everyone’s journey and story is unique, but you have a choice at the end of the day about what to do with that. Do you take that pain and let it consume you and ruin all of your days ahead and all of the people that are in your life’s days? Or do you take that pain and turn it into power and do something amazing with that pain?” asks Reeb.

“I would never say that my parents’ death had a purpose, but at least I could bring some purpose to what happened. I couldn’t control that they were gone, but I could make my footprint a little bit bigger because they were gone. It doesn’t have to be the American Cancer Society. It just needs to be something, instead of taking that pain and making it miserable,” she continued.

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