‘Eve with Team Reeve’ marathoners on a ‘care plus cure’ mission

Allison Ritter, John McConnell, Alan Brown and Lisa Gallagher. PHOTO BY JOSHUA KODIS

Although running a marathon isn’t often considered a team sport, Vero Beach residents Lisa Gallagher, John McConnell and Allison Ritter had a great reason for doing so. They recently hosted an Eve with Team Reeve at the John’s Island home of Toni and Jay Gallagher to share what had motivated them to train for and run in the Nov. 5 New York City Marathon – to fundraise for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

As guests mingled poolside, enjoying cocktails and appetizers catered by Elizabeth D. Kennedy, Lisa Gallagher welcomed the intimate gathering.

“I’ve been a runner my entire life, but training in the humidity and the heat of Vero Beach in the summer is challenging, to say the least. I’m not doing this for myself. I’m doing this for an amazing cause,” she explained, before introducing John McConnell, vice chair of the Reeve Foundation.

“Our mission is one of care plus cure. The progress we’ve made in the last several years is remarkable,” said McConnell.

The nonprofit is focused on curing spinal cord injury by funding innovative research and by improving the quality of life of the individuals and families impacted by paralysis.

McConnell himself experienced paralysis firsthand 18 years ago, when a cycling accident caused a severe spinal cord injury. But he was one of the lucky ones — he recovered. During his convalescence, he read an article about the Reeve Foundation and of some runners who planned to participate in the 2006 New York City Marathon on its behalf.

“It was scheduled one year to the day from my accident, and they were recruiting people to run. At that moment, I decided I was going to do that race,” shared McConnell. The race, which as of this year he has run nine times, was also the start of his relationship with the Reeve Foundation.

“I realized this was something I needed to be part of in a bigger way,” he said.

He added that Vero Beach has even deeper ties to the Reeve Foundation. He explained that longtime John’s Island residents Charlotte and the late Henry (Hank) Stifel formed the American Paralysis Association when their son, Henry, became a quadriplegic after a horrific car accident.

They had contacted Christopher Reeve to offer some guidance and a few years later, the two foundations merged.

Gallagher, McConnell and Ritter trained nearly 800 miles each to prepare for the race, and not only crossed the finish line strong, but have also exceeded their fundraising goal, raising $115,000 with donations still coming in.

They commented that the 60-degree weather in New York was a welcome change from the Florida temperatures they had practiced in during the summer.

“We all have a story. My story started for me before I was in a wheelchair,” said Alan Brown, Reeve Foundation director of new partner engagement. He told the crowd that his best friend had become a paraplegic after a car accident shortly after graduating from high school.

Several years later, Brown became paralyzed while vacationing in Martinique. He had supported his friend as a caregiver and a fundraiser, and he was now also in a wheelchair.

“When you think about the grind of you guys getting ready to run New York, every day is a marathon for me and my friends. Every day, we grind through it all,” said Brown.

“Thank you for putting your bodies on the line for us. You’re taking a step forward for those who can’t,” he added.

For additional information, visit ChristopherReeve.org.

Photos by Joshua Kodis

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