Boston Marathon runners often carry mementos that inspire them through 26.2 grueling miles. For Erin McGuirk, who is training to run for Massachusetts General Hospital, the music coming through her late mother’s iPod serves as inspiration.
The songs power Erin’s training runs and elicit vivid memories of her mother, Eileen Prendergast McGuirk, a teacher and a sparkling, larger-than-life personality who died in 2012 of endometrial cancer.
“I’ll run until we find a cure,” says Erin, 32, who is running for the third consecutive year with the Mass General Pediatric Cancer Team. She has a fundraising goal of $12,000 — double what she raised in previous years.
After moving to Atlanta, Erin, a digital advisor at Morgan Stanley, started running the Boston Marathon in memory of her mother. It was the year after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, when many people rallied to participate in an event that has come to symbolize the city’s strength and perseverance.
Eileen McGuirk’s Heart-Shaped Flash Mob
Erin says she was spurred to run again by a friend and former Boston University hockey teammate of her brother, Brian McGuirk. “EMAC,” as the team members affectionately referred to Eileen, was like a mother to the team.
“She was a second mom to so many,” Erin says. “All of our friends felt that closeness to her. That suggestion from a friend was all I needed.”
When Eileen was hospitalized at Mass General, Erin’s father, Doug McGuirk, devised a creative way for friends and family to show her how much she was loved, without overwhelming her with visits. With less than 24 hours’ notice, via an email and Facebook post, the family organized a flash mob. More than 200 of their extended family, friends and neighbors gathered on a field within view of her hospital room window, and stood in the shape of a heart.
Honoring Her Grandmother’s Legacy, Too
The McGuirk family, of Danvers, has had a long and enduring relationship with Mass General. Nearly 25 years ago, the late Vanita Henderson McGuirk, Erin’s grandmother, created a golf tournament that continues today to raise funds for cancer research and patient programs at Mass General.
Erin says her grandmother was an industrious woman with a can-do attitude. She began what is now called the McGuirk Memorial Golf Tournament after approaching Timothy Johnson, MD, then a physician at Mass General, now a senior medical contributor to ABC News.
Inspired by a family member, Vanita wanted to know what she could do to help Mass General with its research goals. The tournament has also funded The HOPES Program for cancer patients at the Mass General North Shore Cancer Center, as well as an examining room dedicated to her grandfather, John L. “Coach” McGuirk, who died in 2003 of esophageal cancer.
Vanita, who died in November 2016, vowed to keep the golf tournament going “until they cure cancer.” The event will continue this year on Friday, August 11, at The Meadow at Peabody, in Peabody, Mass.
Erin now approaches the Boston Marathon and fundraising for Mass General each year with the same level of commitment. “What has kept me going is I’ve taken a page out of my grandmother’s book,” she says.
Boston Marathon Commitment
She runs with her mother’s iPod, containing a 131-song collection. It is an eclectic mix of modern rock from the past 40 years. Santana, Steely Dan and Boz Skaggs share digital space with more current bands, including Eileen’s favorite, Coldplay.
Erin also began writing a blog, “Everlasting Playlist – Remembering My Mom, One Song at a Time,” to reflect on her mother’s gifts. Initially, her mother had wanted to write a blog with her, to persevere through a daunting clinical trial. That wasn’t to be. But Erin says she decided to continue with the idea — instead taking a walk through her mother’s iPod, and her life.
Her mother always took one source of inspiration with her when she went walking: the iPod. After her walks, Erin recalls, “She would dance her way into the kitchen still huffing and puffing, iPod in hand, headphones in ears, usually in a pair of my old running shoes, gyrating and lip syncing to the music.”
“This iPod followed us to Mass General, and to hospice. And the music played right on through.”
John Hancock and Mass General Celebrate 20 Years of Marathon Partnership
This year marks the 20th anniversary of John Hancock’s partnership with the Mass General Marathon Program. John Hancock provides Mass General runners with bib numbers for the race.
Since it was formed in 1998, Mass General’s Pediatric Oncology Team has raised more than $12 million to support research and child life activities for children with cancer. In 2014, John Hancock worked with the Boston Athletic Association to award the hospital additional bib numbers to create the Emergency Response Team. That effort acknowledged the lifesaving response of hospital personnel following the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Since then, that team has raised more than $1 million for the hospital’s emergency preparedness and disaster training.
In addition to these teams, runners who obtained their own bib numbers for the Boston Marathon will run for the Miles for Mass General program, which raises funds for hospital programs that are close to their hearts. Programs being represented by 2017 runners include Botswana Oncology Global Outreach, Caring for a Cure, Cystic Fibrosis, Down Syndrome and the Lurie Center for Autism.
To learn more about the Mass General Boston Marathon Program, please visit our website.