By Reggie Ellis

Tim Sekiya never thought he would run a marathon. He was a wrestler in high school and college -not exactly a sport that requires hours of stamina - and the farthest he had ever ran was about a mile and a half in physical education classes. And that was more than 15 years ago.

"I couldn't think of any instance where I would need to run any father than a mile or two," he said.

But love can make you do crazy things.

Three years ago at age 6, Tim's daughter Jordan was diagnosed with leukemia. While other parents were learning to deal with the transition from home to school, Tim and his wife, Yvonne, were learning to deal with the pain of seeing their daughter go through chemotherapy.

"When you see what they go through it shows a level of maturity and strength that you didn't know they had," Tim said.

The Sekiyas were contacted by Team in Training, a fund-raising branch of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Team in Training

According to its website www.teamintraining.org, Team In Training (TNT) began in 1988, when Bruce Cleland of Rye, NY formed a team that raised $322,000 to run the New York City Marathon in honor of his daughter Georgia, a leukemia survivor. More than 30,000 runners, walkers, cyclists and triathletes participate on TNTs each year to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Since 1988, 190,000 participants have raised more than $430 million for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. More than 75 percent of the money they raise goes toward research and patient services. The rest goes to pay registration fees, accommodations, transportation, uniforms and weekend activities related to the marathon.

In the Central Valley there is a team representing Fresno, Kern and the South Valley, which consists of Tulare and Kings counties. Campaign Manager Lisa Skozcen said the South Valley TNT team was formed in 1998. Skozcen and her sister ran their first marathon in June of last year in honor of her aunt who died from hodgkins lymphoma two years earlier.

"That morning I had more energy than I have ever had in my life," Skozcen said. "I thought of everything she endured and thought, I'm running because I want to, not because I have to. My aunt didn't have a choice."

Skozcen said after finishing a marathon, most people's reaction were similar to hers.

"I was so excited," she said. "You think, 'I can't believe I just did that.' It is a great feeling of accomplishment."

Each year the teams run in honor of a cancer survivor. Last year, the South Valley team contacted the Sekiyas about making Jordan its honoree.

At 37 years old, Tim decided it was time to run his first marathon.

Tim joined the South Valley Team in Training and started off by running three to four miles twice a week in June to prepare for the Sacramento Marathon in October. Slowly, the running coaches work you up to 20 miles at a time. But the marathon is 26 miles and 385 yards. What do you do for the other 6.2 miles?

"They said if you can run 20 miles you can run 26 or 27 miles, the rest is mental," Tim said. "It is all about your will to finish. The motivation for me was simple - I'm doing this for Jordan."

Each runner is also required to raise a minimum of $2,500. Tim said fund-raising is often harder than the actual running - a marathon in of itself. But finding the motivation for that isn't very hard.

"New treatments are a result of the money that the society generates," Tim said. "That was all the inspiration I needed."

The family made a trip of it heading down the night before and staying overnight. Megan, 7, the Sekiyas' youngest daughter, named herself the "vice honoree." Then, in the morning, Tim put his Team in Training wristbands on and a hat, something he doesn't normally wear, signed by both of his daughters. The marathon is long and grueling, but Tim said any time he began to tire, he would take off his hat, wipe his brow and then look at his daughters' signatures.

"It's worth every minute of every mile," Tim said. "It is a personal goal to finish the marathon but furthering the cause makes it much easier to keep going."

Throughout the race Yvonne drove his daughters to every fifth mile where they could cheer on daddy with signs they had made the night before that read "GO DAD" and another with stickers with the 26.2 mile distance and a picture of dad crossing the finish line. During the last 200-300 yards of the marathon, Tim started losing some steam until his daughters came out into the street to run with their father.

"We all crossed the finish line together," Sekiya said. "I wasn't feeling 100 percent that day but that made it all worth it."

Back on Track

Tim was back in training at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, March 23, this time as a mentor for some of the first timers. This year's team has nearly 50 runners and walkers who will raise money for the society by entering the Suzuki Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in San Diego on June 6. Skozcen said this is the largest group ever in the South Valley, and many more have expressed interest for the summer season which begins in July.

"Many people like Tim come back as alumni to run in the marathons," Skozcen said. "About 20 of the 50 people are returners and they are a big part in bringing in new people."

Twice a week they arrive at 5 a.m. to run for an hour or two as they build toward their goal of completing 20 miles at one time. Yvonne said she is glad her husband has decided to run again.

"I was surprised but I think it is wonderful," she said. "I'm glad he is running. [Running] is not my bag."

The family will again travel down together, but this time the South Valley team will be taking two buses so the entire group can stay together for the weekend. After the marathon, they will all enjoy the rock 'n' roll concerts for which the marathon is named after. At the conclusion of the 2004 Suzuki Rock 'n' Roll Marathon, Team in Training participants are projected to reach the $100 million mark in fund-raising just for that event.

"Not everyone has a family member with cancer, but I am surprised at how many people know someone who does," Tim said.

Tim needs to raise $5,000 to meet his goal this year. Anyone wanting to sponsor him should make checks payable to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and send them to Tim Sekiya, 401 E. Maple St. Exeter, CA 93221. For more information on Team in Training visit the website at www.teamintraining.com or call South Valley campaign manager Lisa Skoczen at 625-5856 if you are interested in becoming a TNT runner, walker, cyclist or triathlete.

"We will never understand why someone as sweet as Jordan, or any child, would be afflicted with cancer. But we do know we are grateful and feel blessed for the support we have received from a number of unique individuals and organizations."

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