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Marathon runner finds disease a motivator

Ashley McKnight-Taylor

Tom Coxe can’t remember exactly how he got into the world of marathon running.

He a few other guys from the area took up running, probably because they were having their mid-life crisis and needed to do something, he joked. Then one pal, Tom Duntemann convinced Coxe to try a marathon.

Coxe was always active in sports throughout his youth, “But a marathon is very, very different,” he said, noting that it takes nearly a year to prepare for one.

That was about eight years ago. Since then he has run seven marathons and more than twice as many half marathons.

He enlisted another friend, Jay Dorschel, to run with him in a marathon in Memphis for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Because Dorschel’s daughter, Lizzie, had cancer, it didn’t take much persuasion.

That run was an eye-opener for Coxe.

“It was so durn much fun running for a purpose,” he declared.

With that in mind, and the desire, as a runner, to attempt that sport’s ultimate challenge, Coxe looked to the marathon of all marathons: Boston.

The Boston Marathon attracts runners from all over the world. From Heartbreak Hill to the million-plus crowds, it is the closest competition to the Olympics that older athletes will find, Coxe said.

To qualify is “Super, super hard,” he added.

His best time fell about half an hour short of that required to participate. He learned that the American Liver Foundation had a number of spots open for “fairly good runners” who would run on behalf of the fundraising campaign Run For Research, he said.

The American Liver Foundation is devoted to liver health and disease prevention through its research, education and advocacy programs.

Run For Research started with famous marathon athlete Robert E. Banks, who thought his own Boston Marathon run would be the perfect vehicle to generate support and awareness for the American Liver Foundation.

Since then, team RFR has raised more than $7 million for the foundation, according to a press release.

Last year, Coxe and four of his Suffolk buddies n Mark Lawson, Joe Verdirame, Jay Dorschel, Tom Harrington and Tom Duntemann n ran the Boston event for RFR.

RFR pairs runners with patients who are afflicted with a form of liver disease. Coxe’s match is a 7-year-old girl from New York, who is awaiting a liver transplant. The two stay in touch through e-mails and cards, he said. She and her family came to the race last year, along with other patients, to support the runners. They took up a post at the bottom of Heartbreak Hill with signs and cheers to spur the runners on, he said.

“There is no question you feel some sort of attachment there,” he said. “It’s pretty special to have that association.”

Coxe said many people have the misconception that liver disease afflicts only alcoholics, but in reality, it often touches children.

To date, more than 30 million Americans are affected by more than 100 liver diseases, ranging from hepatitis B (a fast-growing liver ailment) to biliary atresia (an inheritable liver disease that causes disabilities in young children) to liver cancer, according to the release.

To raise funds for the race, he sold paper sneakers for $1 and asked friends and family for donations or to sponsor him. His goal this year is to raise $7,500, he said. The whole RFR team goal is $1.5 million.

“It’s a great, great charity.”

Coxe leaves tomorrow for events and festivities during the weekend before Monday’s race.

To make a donation to Coxe’s campaign, or the foundation, visit www.liverteam.org or call (617) 527-5600.