How Running The SF Marathon Gave Him A Sense of Purpose After The Death Of A Loved One

On March 20, 2016, Jonathan’s mom, Shelley, passed away after a five-year battle with ovarian cancer. Jonathan not only lost his mom, but he also lost his sense of purpose.

His career, his PhD, his entire profession has been in cancer research — even before his mom was diagnosed with cancer. So, even though he understood her diagnosis and had helped in researching medications to help battle cancer, Jonathan couldn’t help his mom in her own battle.

“You think in your head that you’re preparing yourself for the death of this loved one,” Jonathan said. “But in the end, there are just so many things that you can’t prepare yourself for. I had lost my sense of purpose.”

Even during this difficult time in his life, Jonathan kept running.

“I knew I didn’t have the strength to do anything or organize anything, but what I did know is that through all of it, I kept on running. Running is my form of therapy,” he said.

Running… So Much Easier Than Wrestling

Jonathan has always been athletic. He played hockey as a kid for many years and other sports throughout the years.

In high school he decided to join the wrestling team, but he soon realized that his favorite part of wrestling practice was when they’d go run 6 miles, instead of actually wrestling… The running was so much easier!

So, instead of wrestling, Jonathan decided to start running. His older sister and his dad were both runners too. In fact, his sister has run the Boston Marathon many times.

Because of his competitive nature, Jonathan says he needed to do something different than what his sister was doing — something more than “just” running, so he got into triathlons instead.

He competed in his first triathlon in 2003 while he was in college and he continued to compete throughout college.

Jonathan also started dreaming of someday competing in an Ironman event, and he’s even trained for the Ironman twice — once in 2010 and once in 2018, but each time he got injured during his training and wasn’t able to compete in the event.

San Francisco Is Home

Along the way, Jonathan moved from Michigan, where he grew up and went to college, to San Francisco, where he went to grad school, got his PhD and has been living and working ever since.

He also found the San Francisco Marathon.

The Ironman wasn’t in the cards for Jonathan because of all the training it requires and the injuries he had along the way (although he still thinks an Ironman could be in his future someday!), but he still kept running.

In 2014, he decided to run his first marathon, the San Francisco Marathon. From the first time he ran the marathon, he loved it.

The 2020 San Francisco Marathon will be his seventh year in a row of running the race and it’s still the only marathon he’s ever run.

He has no plans of missing a year anytime in the future either.

“I just love the San Francisco Marathon. It’s very iconic,” Jonathan said. “I’ve always had this idea that 30 years from now I’m going to have run the San Francisco Marathon every year.”

He says that growing up he always wanted to move to California and he was thrilled when he got the opportunity to move to San Francisco after college.

“I’ve always had this love for San Francisco,” Jonathan said. “I fit here. Being a gay man, I feel accepted here. It really does feel like home.”

So, the San Francisco Marathon has just become an extension of his love for the city.

“The San Francisco Marathon is just pure nostalgia for me,” he said. “I’ve done it many years in a row. It’s always been this goal to achieve. No matter how many times you do it, it’s still hard.”

Finding His Purpose Again

Running the San Francisco Marathon also helped Jonathan find his sense of purpose again after his mom passed away.

It started small, but in March 2018, Jonathan decided that he would donate $1 to the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance for every mile he ran, and he called it #runningformom.

“It started as me saying, I need to do something,” Jonathan said. “This is what I’m going to do for myself to make me feel like I’m giving back. I’m going to give a dollar for every mile that I run.”

But then, it started to grow. He started posting about it on his Instagram account and reaching out to his community to match his donations, especially during big races, like the San Francisco Marathon.

He started using “RUN4MOM” on his race bib and bringing a large poster size picture of his mom to the races each year.

In 2019, Jonathan had to walk the marathon because of another injury (that came from trying again to train for an Ironman!), but he still finished it.

“There’s just something in me that feels really determined to keep running, keep running San Francisco, and keep running for my mom. It really does just give me that sense of purpose,” Jonathan said.

Doing Something Big For Mom

What started small has grown over the last two years.

In 2019, Jonathan says, “I was starting to move past that acute and deep grief associated with losing her and so I felt I had the capacity to do more. So I decided to host a charity event.”

He planned a small charity event at a wine bar in the Castro and he raised over $10,000 at the event for the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance.

To date, including all the matching donations, he’s raised about $15,000.

But, this year, that small wine bar event is expanding to a huge gala event on the top floor of the Salesforce Tower.

The We’re Ovar It benefit event will be on Tuesday, April 7, and Jonathan’s goal is to triple the amount they raise this year. He’s hoping to raise $30,000 for ovarian cancer research.

“I have no doubt we’re going to have a phenomenal event,” Jonathan said.

All of the net proceeds from the event will benefit the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance, which is the largest organization that focuses on ovarian cancer.

Specifically, OCRA funds research grants, which is important to Jonathan.

“As a scientist, research grants have been super important in my career development,” Jonathan said. “I have applied for many research grants over the years from similar foundations, so what really drove me to pick the OCRA is that they fund basic science. Money that you donate goes directly to researchers at academic institutes that are focused on either understanding the mechanisms that lead to ovarian cancer, new detection options, or new treatment options. The money goes to something tangible that I obviously have a passion for.”

Jonathan is excited about this event and the money it will raise for this amazing cause, in honor of his mom.

He remembers his mom fondly, saying, “Mom was a wonderful person. She was very silly, lighthearted, and so fun. I see all of these things in me now too. I miss my mother, but I feel really good about the life we had together. I never would have expected all of this, but I’ve had so much fun doing it, and I’ve met so many people with similar stories, who’ve experienced that kind of loss too.”

Jonathan experienced extreme loss, but he’s been able to come out the other side and now help other people because of it.

He’s going to keep running too. An Ironman may be in the future if the stars align someday, and he’d also like to branch out and run the Boston Marathon and other marathons as well.

He also plans to run the San Francisco Marathon again this year (and for the next 30 years at least!).



In honor and celebration of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games that will be happening at the same time as the 2020 San Francisco Marathon, we are telling runners’ Gold Stories.

For many, running in the Olympics may be a far off dream, but we know you have your own goals and achievements that we want to hear about and celebrate, because everyone can have their own version of a Gold Goal!

So, what’s your Gold Story? Share your story with us here and we may feature your story next!


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