Jennifer Aiello is going the extra mile to support the family of Mason Ruszkowski, an 18-month-old boy with neuroblastoma she has yet to meet. Last fall, Aiello’s husband, Christopher, told her that friends of his, Michael and Vimala Ruszkowski, had a toddler who was diagnosed with Stage IV neuroblastoma. The Aiellos live in Gales Ferry, Conn., about an hour and 45 minutes away from the Ruszkowskis, who live in Trumbull, Conn. Jennifer had met the couple previously, and the new mom’s heart hurt for them.
“I didn’t know what neuroblastoma was,” Jennifer said. “But we have a son too. And you just never know. This could happen to anybody.” Researching the disease, she tried to think of a way she could help the family. Always active, Jennifer says she never thought of herself as a runner – until now. She made a commitment to herself and to Mason to run 5k and 10k races to raise funds for the Children’s Neuroblastoma Cancer Foundation in Mason’s honor.
Starting out with the goal of raising $2,500, she had a shirt printed with Mason’s photo, his name and CNCF’s symbol. Jennifer finished her first race at the end of September and hasn’t stopped running, even though she surpassed $2,500. Completing 11 races so far, one of them with Mason’s mom, Jennifer has raised $5,000, and has revised her goal upward.
Posting her races on her Facebook site and other channels, she uses the Crowdrise Web site to conduct the fundraising. In winter, fewer races are happening. But even though her 9-month-old, named Liam, keeps her busy, Jennifer makes time to train daily. On weekends, she maps a route and dedicates a run to Mason. By signing up for an app she uses called Map My Run, friends and supporters can track her on runs that sometimes cover a 9-mile swath.
“I have a lot of races coming up through the summer and next fall,” she said. “I figured if I could get almost to $6,000, maybe I could get to $10,000.”
Jennifer’s miles help the Ruszkowskis carry on too.
“I can't tell you what it means to my family to know that Jen is dedicating her time and energy towards helping Mason and other kids like him who are fighting the same battle,” said Vimala Ruszkowski. “For Jen to turn her concern for Mason into action for others is inspiring. It's acts like this that have sustained my family during this difficult time and helped us look forward with hope.”
Jennifer’s next race is the ShamRock & Roll 5k in New Haven on March 3. After that it’s on to the O'Niantic 5k in Niantic, Conn., on March 16. She is planning her longest race ever on March 23, the Savin Rock Half-Marathon in New Haven.
For more on her efforts and to support CNCF, see http://www.crowdrise.com/jenniferaiello1