When she was 37, Julie Weiss decided to take up running to lose some weight and get in better shape physically and mentally.
Eventually, stride by stride, she went from “not being able to run around the block” to running in races, and then, eventually, marathons.
That made her father, Maurice, extremely proud, and after each race she would call her Dad to tell him how she had done.
“When I started running, he was so excited and he became my biggest fan,” Weiss said. “When I called him, it didn’t matter what I had done. He would just tell me to keep going and that I was doing great.”
Then came the race that Weiss, now 42 and a participant in Sunday’s ING Miami Marathon and Half Marathon, couldn’t call her father to talk about how she had done.
That day came on Dec. 5 of 2010, less than two weeks after her father had died from pancreatic cancer at age 75. She ran, with tears in her eyes much of the way, and recorded her personal best marathon time to this day, 3 hours and 47 minutes.
Weiss, a Californian, has embarked on a remarkable journey dedicated to her father. She has vowed to run 52 marathons in 52 weeks, and the Miami event is race No. 45. As part of each race, she “adopts” a person that pancreatic cancer has claimed or a person that is fighting the disease, and she dedicates her run to them.
For most people, running a marathon is all about pain. For Weiss, marathons are about healing pain.
Of that marathon she ran nearly two weeks after her father’s death, she said, “It was bittersweet. I felt him there every step of the way. He was the wind at my back, and I crossed that finish line with my hands pointing to him in heaven. I had always called him after races. This time, I called him in a different way.
“It was really emotional, and after the finish I was on the ground in tears.”
That race qualified her for one of her lifelong goals, one that she had hoped to share with her father — to run in the Boston Marathon.
She had tried to qualify for Boston 19 times previously and had failed each time. But in her first marathon after her father’s death, she qualified.
“Running the Boston Marathon had become a dream of mine,” she said. “I wanted to take my dad with me to let him see me run it.”
Her dad wasn’t physically there in Boston when she ran the race in April 2011, but, as Weiss put it, “He really was there.”
Her father had been diagnosed with Stage 4 inoperable pancreatic cancer in October 2010.
“They said there was nothing that they could do and they gave him about three to six months to live, but he passed away in 35 days,” Weiss said.
Too quick, and for Weiss, too difficult. She struggled.
Then she decided to make a difference.
“My marathons are not about me,” Weiss said. “This is so much bigger than me.”
In Miami, Weiss will be running for Maureen Adlard from Edmonton, Alberta, who was 45 when she died.
In September, she dedicated her race to Paul Perkovic, who was fighting pancreatic cancer, and met Weiss and ran with her for the final 385 yards of the 26.2-mile marathon. They crossed the finish line holding hands.
“He had such a big smile on his face that day,” Weiss said. “Unfortunately, he passed away two months ago.”
Weiss calls the race after Miami “ a bit of happiness. That race is dedicated to Roberta Luna, who is an 11-year pancreatic survivor and is cancer free and will run the last couple of miles with me.”
Weiss’ efforts have raised $141,000 in the fight against pancreatic cancer.
As for Weiss, she has come a long way from the person who was looking to find herself when she first started running.
“I was overweight and taking antidepressants and was looking for a way to balance all my responsibilities,” she said. “I was a young mother and working and felt like I needed something more. I found running and it changed my life forever. I lost the weight and got off the medications.
“When I started, I had a little dog who was my running partner. We would run around the block, and run on the beach. I could only make it from one lifeguard tower to the next one, and then I would have to walk. But eventually I just loved what it did for my body and my life and it became like a religion.”
When Weiss told friends she was going to run 52 marathons in 52 weeks, she admitted they called her crazy. She was not insulted.
“Yes, I can be a little crazy,” she said, “but when people say I’m crazy, I think it means I’m on the right track to doing something wonderful.”
Is there any chance she will not make it through all 52 marathons?
“No way,” she said. “I know I’m going to make it. There’s no stopping now.
“The angels are with me.”