Running (a lot) for a cure

CREATED Sep 6, 2013

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NEW YORK CITY - Forrest Gump didn't have a reason to run across America.

But Ashley Kumlien has a reason. A great reason. A life-altering reason.

Three years ago she did it by herself, running more than 3,200 miles from San Francisco to New York, becoming just the 16th woman to traverse the width of the continent. This time around, she had help, organizing a relay of more than a dozen runners to travel - on foot - from Santa Monica Pier to Pier 40 in New York City, all in the hopes of eradicating a life-altering disease that has been a centerpiece of Ashley's life.

Ashley Kumlien's mother, Jill, has lived with Multiple Sclerosis for all of Ashley's life.

"She definitely has deteriorated," Kumlien says of her mother's condition over the last three years. "Some of her abilities; her muscle control, her balance, her coordination (have) been progressing her MS symptoms. It's really hard to see, and it's really frustrating. And that's why I'm out here."

Running for a cause. Running to raise money for research. And after five months, today, that journey ends at the finish line on Manhattan's West Side.

"It's very surreal," Kumlien says of the end of her five-month journey. "I feel infinitely more proud of what has been accomplished this year than what happened in 2010."

Kumlien says organizing, motivating, and even housing and feeding multiple runners was harder than just doing it herself, which seems counter-intuitive when you consider how much the athletes on this journey are actually running.

"People don't fully comprehend that each runner does a marathon every day for a week consecutively," Kumlien adds.

Some of the runners on the relay have absolutely no experience running one marathon, much less seven straight. one of those runners was Ashley's sister, Dawn, who struggled in the hills of Pennsylvania. She finished on time, but not without some prodding by big sister.

MS is a disease where the insulating covers of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are damaged. This damage disrupts the ability of parts of the nervous system to communicate. Four years ago, Ashley, an endurance athlete and personal trainer by trade, formed MSRunTheUS, a 501(c)3 nonprofit created to raise money and awareness. So far this year, MSRunTheUS has raised over $170,000 that will go toward research.

But it wouldn't have happened without inspiration. An inspiration that gets to come full circle today, when the final runner crosses the finish line. That "runner" will actually be Kumlien's mom, who is the inspiration for what has turned into her daughter's life's work. Jill Kumlien will be pushed along in a type of running wheelchair by her daughter as she is joined by several members of her relay team running step-in-step.

Ashley Kumlien says she is already planning for next year's relay. To sign up, to donate to the cause, or for more information, log on to MSRunTheUS.com.