For Montclair husband and wife Brad Yankiver and Heidi Woo, the 2022 New York City Half Marathon was a true full circle moment.
Back in 2010, the couple raced in the Pan-Mass Challenge, a 200-mile bike-a-thon, to raise money for cancer research in memory of Brad’s childhood friend, Jared Branfman, who passed from a brain tumor. Twelve years later, Brad ran in the NYC Half Marathon this past Sunday to again, fundraise for cancer research and raise awareness, but this time in honor of his wife Heidi.
Heidi was diagnosed with an oligodendroglioma tumor in 2014, just three months after surviving a cardiac arrest. Following a successful tumor resection surgery, Heidi was able to give birth to their son, Benny. Yet, while pregnant in 2017, her tumor returned. Fortunately, the tumor growth was slow and a new treatment, realized in part by the research of the National Brain Tumor Society (NBTS), has allowed Heidi to live a relatively normal life with her family.
“Our lives really would not be possible without their work and research,” Brad said. So, in the spirit of paying it forward, he unified a group of five friends and coworkers to join the NBTS Gray Nation Endurance team in the half marathon. Together, Brad and his friends raised over $37,000, pushing NBTS to a collective team total of nearly $109,000 funds raised for cancer research. “I think this is particularly meaningful to us to be able to rejoin the effort [of raising money for cancer research] (which began in Jared’s memory), now with new meaning.” Brad noted that despite so many difficult things happening in the world, Sunday’s race was a beautiful moment in which tens of thousands of people came together for a whole range of causes and to do something positive.
Brad’s gesture to run in her honor and to support NBTS, was a very moving surprise for Heidi. “We’ve been on this journey together managing my health,” Heidi said. “When he decided to do the half marathon, I was surprised because he wasn’t much of a runner. He told me many times that he would never run a marathon, ever! So when he took on running… and decided to fundraise for NBTS, it was really moving to me as someone who’s been managing this diagnosis for eight years now.”
Although Brad was never a runner until taking it up as something to do during the COVID-19 lockdowns, having a larger cause in mind was enough motivation to push him to complete the half marathon he had vowed to never do.
“When you have such a large goal, if you break it down into smaller steps and keep in mind the why of why you’re doing it, that why can keep you going, just focusing on one step at a time,” Heidi said. “A 13 mile run is just 13 one-mile runs, and that’s not as intimidating. For those hesitant, I would encourage them to take on whatever’s meaningful in their lives, and challenge themselves by focusing on the small steps that it takes to accomplish something really big.”