Gretchen Roufs' portraitJust when Jen Schaffer was thinking about doing something for a good cause, a postcard arrived from Team in Training®, promoting itself as “the world’s largest endurance sports training program.”

Team in Training is The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s leading national fundraising program. Jen, who is marketing coordinator for Tornado Industries, a Chicago-based manufacturer, says she just knew that postcard was a sign that she should get involved, especially since Jen’s mom, Willa, was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia in 2004.

Jen decided to run the October 2005 Chicago Marathon. “I’m raising money in honor of my mother,” Jen says, “and for the thousands of other families touched by cancer.”

Jen began training for this 26.2-mile marathon in January. “I went to a Team in Training informational meeting last December,” Jen said, “and the next month I was out the door running.” Until then, the most Jen ran was about a mile. Now she runs at least 50 miles a week.

Jen runs five days per week, including Saturday mornings when she runs with a group of about 80 other people from the Team in Training program. “Often, as part of our Saturday morning run, a leukemia patient visits and tells their story,” she said.

The involvement of these “honored patients” is a key part of the program. “Whenever we are tempted to give up, we think about the people with leukemia waiting for us at the finish line, and it keeps us inspired.”

As for Jen’s aspirations for the marathon and the fundraising that goes with it, “My goal is to finish the marathon in four hours. But, my fundraising goal is forever changing. If I could raise $10,000, that would be fantastic.”

The minimum fundraising goal for a marathon runner in this program is $1,500. “I was panicked — I never thought I’d make it,” said Jen. She proved herself wrong. Jen has raised about $7,000, and plans to raise more. “Anything helps as long as I can increase people’s awareness about the disease.”

You don’t hear Jen talk about how tough it was to bundle up in layers of clothing and run in the middle of the Chicago winter. Or her 18-mile runs in the scorching summer heat. She talks about the people — those who are leukemia and lymphoma patients, and those who have made donations to the cause.

Jen’s dad, Michael Schaffer, president of Tornado Industries, motivated her to tell people about the marathon and fundraising. According to Jen, “I was very hesitant to open up at work and talk about this cause. My dad is the one who gave me the final push to tell people about it. He was the one that told me I’d get great support. He was right, but I’ll never tell him that.”

Jen is shocked by the number of people who are affected by the disease. She is equally amazed about the support she’s received.

I’m not at all surprised. Anybody who says, “I’d run 100 miles if I knew it would help the cause,” deserves every bit of support that comes her way.

Willa Schaffer died on September 9, 2005. I just know that she’ll be with Jen every step of the way.

Gretchen Roufs, an 18-year janitorial supply industry veteran, owns Auxiliary Marketing Services of San Antonio. To suggest someone you think should be featured in “freetime,” contact her at (210) 601-4572