By Caroline Wilson, KDKA Website Intern

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — When University of Pittsburgh senior Shelbi Pellen saw a girl tabling for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society on campus one day last fall, she immediately stopped to talk to her. Pellen’s stepdad had been diagnosed with leukemia and she was hoping to maybe donate to the organization.

What Pellen didn’t realize was that this girl wasn’t just seeking donations – she was recruiting runners to become a part of Team in Training, the first and largest endurance training program of its kind to train runners to compete in races nationwide, all the while raising tremendous amounts of money to benefit the LLS.

Pellen immediately jumped on board, signing up to run a half marathon in the spring, thinking it would be a good way to stay fit and raise money and awareness for this organization.

“I had always been a casual runner,” explained Pellen, “a couple of miles runner, but a half marathon – this was totally out of my element.”

Five months later, Pellen is just one of 2,300 runners that competed in the 12th annual Sean T. Smith Memorial Just A Short Run on Saturday, March 31 at North Park in McCandless Township.

Don’t let the name fool you – Just A Short Run is tougher than it sounds. It is comprised of four different events that runners can participate in: a 5K run/walk, an 8.1 mile run, a half marathon and a 30K run.

This benefit race supports the LLS, a voluntary health organization committed to finding a cure for and eradicating blood cancer. Pellen was one of 10 TNT participants that braved the chill and proudly sported purple at the race on Saturday. Over a course of five months, these 10 individuals collectively raised over $8,000 for the LLS.

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All proceeds directly support cancer research as well as patients and their families. Funding targets the four chief blood cancer killers: leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma.

Carol Wilson of Downingtown, Pa., whose husband was diagnosed with leukemia in 2007, witnessed firsthand how money raised for the LLS benefits cancer patients and their families.

The society reimbursed her for the amount of money spent on gas when driving to and from the hospital in Philadelphia every day, as well as parking. The LLS also took care of extra prescriptions for her husband that were not covered by insurance, and made her aware of the latest cancer treatments taking place worldwide.

“The LLS let me tune in online and listen to different AML [Acute myeloid leukemia] conferences going on around the world,” said Wilson. “They tell you what’s going on with AML today and what’s on the horizon for the future. They make you the advocate and give you questions to ask your doctor; most importantly, are you receiving the latest, cutting edge treatment? The money really is going directly to the people and their education on these diseases.”

TNT participants are among the major benefactors that make this possible.

“Team in Training is the largest fundraising arm of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society,” explained Chelsea Trimble, the Campaign Coordinator for Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. “Our participants are a big part of how we can donate $76 million dollars a year to blood cancer research. The TEAM is saving lives and getting healthier by doing so.”

TNT’s training program, designed for both novices and veterans, is run by certified coaches who know the ins and outs of the endurance world, explained Trimble.

“These are the people that work so hard to create the training schedules as well as the one-on-one support that our participants get,” said Trimble. “Our program specializes in a conservative training program for beginners but our coaches can also create more advanced schedules for experienced athletes.”

The coaches also give runners nutrition advice as well as tips on form and how they can compete the event in a timely but safe manner.

Pellen found the weekend group runs to be especially valuable, as they not only motivated her physically, but were truly inspirational, as members would give short speeches before they conquered their required mileage for the day, sharing their personal stories about what led them to join the TEAM.

“Training was an amazing experience,” said Pellen. “When you run by yourself it’s great, but when you’re running with the TEAM you feel like you’re a part of something bigger. You’re running alongside all these other people that have a connection to cancer and you share this common interest, this common goal.”

Not only are TNT participants privy to support from coaches, but each runner, whether new to the group or an alumnus, gets assigned a mentor who provides moral support throughout their training.

After completing her first marathon with TNT in 2008, Allison Hricik of Pittsburgh, Pa., decided to become a mentor, wanting to stay connected to the group and give back to the organization that helped so many others.

At a young age, Hricik lost her mother to breast cancer, and while she does participate in breast cancer specific charities, she decided to stick with LLS due to the fact that it allows her to reach so many people who have been affected by cancer.

“Anytime I am out on a race course with my purple TNT shirt on, I know that so many are touched just by knowing that people care and are trying to make a difference,” said Hricik. “The cause is such an important one, and the quality of training that is provided to our participants is superb. While I started with TNT without a personal connection, my continued involvement has led to it become personal.”

For many who competed for the first time Saturday, this event won’t be their last. While each runner received a medal in honor of their accomplishment, it is the knowledge that they are giving hope to others and the promise of one day finding a cure for blood cancer that they truly prize.

“No matter what the reason is for them joining, I hope that they walk away knowing that what they did will far exceed their own personal goals,” said Hricik. “I hope they find pride in their accomplishment. For those who run in memory of lost loved ones, I hope they feel a sense of closeness to that person. While they may have crossed a personal finish line, they also influenced so many others along the way, whether they realized it or not.”

Become a part of the TEAM and help save lives! TNT is currently recruiting for their fall season which includes the Nation’s Triathlon in Washington, D.C., the RTC 2012 Viva Bike Vegas Gran Fondo in Las Vegas, Nev., the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco, Calif., and the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.

Those interested can register online at Team In Training’s website, attend a local information session (information for which can be found on the website), call 412-395-2879 or email Trimble at

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