Miami-Dade County

Running for a cause at the Miami Marathon


Less than 30 minutes after Caryn Lubetsky completed her first Boston Marathon, a pair of explosions rocked the finish line.

Three people died, including an 8-year old boy, and more than 200 people were injured, many with severe leg injuries.

“Ever since then, I’ve had to run for something bigger than me,” said Lubetsky, 43, who lives in Miami Shores. “It’s been the only way I’ve been able to heal from what happened.”

She will run in Sunday’s Miami Marathon to raise money for the HIV Education and Law Project Inc., a free legal clinic for low-income people with HIV and AIDS. Lubetsky is among an estimated 8,750 marathoners who will run either the full (26.2 miles) or half (13.1 miles) marathon for charity. They are expected to make up about 35 percent of the approximately 25,000 runners, according to event organizers.

“Together we’re utilizing the outreach of this internationally recognized event to help promote associated charitable groups and their causes,” race director Javier Sanchez said.

Last year, the runners raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for more than 40 charities. This year, there are 28 official charities, including Camillus House in downtown Miami and His House Children’s Home in Miami Gardens.

One charity team, Team Lifeline, expects to raise at least $1.4 million through this year’s Miami Marathon — enough to send more than 400 children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases to a special summer camp in New York.

The team will field more than 400 runners in Sunday’s race, making it the largest charity partner in the 12-year history of the Miami Marathon.

“[The runners] are getting fit and trying to have a successful race, but are also empowered on behalf of these sick children or other causes they support,” team spokesman Moshe Turk said. “It helps them dig deep.”

Another 20 marathoners will be on the Run4Roots team. Their cause: Roots of Hope, a Miami Beach-based nonprofit that helps empower young people in Cuba by connecting them to technology and information.

“The vast majority [of team members] are people who have not run a half marathon before,” said Roots of Hope Chief Innovation and Technology Officer Natalia Martinez. “They feel so strongly about the cause that they are willing to figure out the running part.”

Lubetsky is the leader of Team HELP.

Its cause — the Miami Beach-based HIV Education and Law Project, or HELP — is important to her. Lubetsky founded the nonprofit after graduating from the University of Miami Law School in 1996.

Fundraising had long been a challenge for her, especially after the recession. She came up with the idea to field a charity marathon team in 2011.

“I needed a way to marry my passion for running with my passion for charity work,” she said. “This was it.”

Lubetsky persuaded seven friends to sign up for the full or half marathon in Miami, which they ran in January 2012. Some were seasoned runners. Others were newbies who had never run more than a mile without stopping.

Melissa Netkin, a casual runner, was among the first to sign up. She and Lubetsky have been friends for 10 years, since their children were small.

“I always believed in what she was doing,” Netkin said. “She’s a really dynamic person. I wanted to support her in that endeavor.”

Lubetsky gave each member of her team personalized training programs and sent weekly emails with advice.

Together, they raised a combined $10,000 for HELP. It was a moving experience for Netkin, who ran part of the half marathon between a breast-cancer survivor and a woman pushing a sick child in a stroller.

“There was a moment [when] I wondered if I could really do it,” she recalled. “And then I realized I could do it. I could do it and I had to do it.”

The following year, on April 15, 2013, Lubetsky conquered a personal running milestone: She completed her first Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual marathon, in three hours and 34 minutes.

“It was incredibly emotional,” she said. “Every runner’s dream is to run the Boston Marathon.”

Her husband, three young children, mother and stepfather were waiting for her at the finish line. They celebrated there until Lubetsky spotted a nearby coffee shop, and asked to step inside for a warm drink.

Her family followed. They were inside when the two bombs exploded at the finish line.

One suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was later shot dead by police. His brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was charged with using a weapon of mass destruction, and is awaiting trial.

Surviving the bombing “gave new meaning to running,” Lubetsky said.

“To me, running became about freedom, about showing people that we live in an open society,” she said. “I needed to keep running — not only for me, but for the less fortunate in my community.”

She returned to Miami more determined to recruit runners to her cause. This year, Team HELP has 32 members. Before the race, they were treated with gift bags full of running essentials like Gatorade and aspirin. The iRun Company, a running store in Miami, hosted a team dinner.

The team is hoping to raise $40,000 this year to help place children who have been orphaned because of HIV.

They aren’t likely to forget why they are running. “Many of the children are living in the shelters right along the marathon route,” Lubetsky said.

Once the race is over, Lubetsky has no plans to slow down.

“Just knowing that every step I take is for something bigger than me — that keeps me moving,” she said.

How to help

To learn more about charity runners at the Miami Marathon — or to donate to a team — visit the following websites.

The Miami Marathon:

Team HELP:

Team Lifeline:

Run4Roots (Roots of Hope):

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