“LIFE IS PRECIOUS:” SAN FRANCISCO MARATHON AMBASSADOR JONATHAN SOCKOLOSKY AND HIS RUNNING FOR MOMS

“What a loaded question! Who is Jonathan Sockolosky…?”

That was Jonathan trying to find an answer to Who is Jonathan Sockolosky? It might have been an unfair thing to ask. After all, there are many ways to define oneself. Defined by his work, Jonathan is a scientist at Genentech, working in antibody engineering and large molecule drug discovery. He focuses on early research to help develop drugs that treat cancer. Defined by his hobbies, he’s a runner, a dedicated marathoner. Defined by what he does in between his work and running, he is a man who loves his mother and who cares deeply for those around him. Having raised over $100,000 for ovarian cancer research, he’s changing the world for many.

Jonathan grew up in Michigan with his parents and two sisters. His mom and dad always put the family first and made sure that the kids were active when young. His sisters did gymnastics and figure skating while he took to hockey. Both his parents were athletic and if there’s someone Jonathan might have gotten his running from, it was his dad who also likes to run.

Jonathan wasn’t always an enthusiastic runner.

“I actually didn’t like running at all. I had tried track and field when I was a freshman in high school and I quit,” he said.

However, when he started wrestling his senior year of high school, the occasional 10K training runs he’d do instead of practice became much more enjoyable; the training was so hard that “the days when our coach told us to just go run a 10K were a relief.” During these runs, he actually started to enjoy running.

One of Jonathan’s sisters is a runner and a Boston Marathoner. He wanted to do something different than her so he got into triathlons. As he got older, running grew onto him even more. Triathlons became few and far between, partially because of how much time training for a triathlon takes up.

“I just transitioned over to running because all you need is a pair of shoes,” Jonathan said.

Eventually, Jonathan’s running grew into something much bigger than he ever thought it could.

For what in your life do you feel the most grateful?

“My family, my partner, and my health… I keep coming back to my health. Because it’s what allows me to do everything I do. Watching and seeing someone go through cancer and pass away really knocks you into [the] reality that life is precious. You take that for granted—I did, at least, when I was young, six years ago—you take it for granted when you’re young and you think you’re invincible.

So, I want to say family because I’m so grateful for my family but maybe I’m coming back to, gosh, I’m so grateful to be healthy. To be able to run and support others who can’t… Life is precious.”

Running for Moms

Over the past four years, Jonathan has raised over $100,000 for the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance (OCRA)—and it all started with a run and a hashtag.

In 2016, Jonathan’s mother passed away from ovarian cancer. Even though he does early research to help develop drugs to treat cancer, Jonathan wanted to do something more after her death to give back. As ovarian cancer research is very underfunded, he wanted to start a foundation.

“But the first year after mom passed, I couldn’t do anything,” he said.

Jonathan spiraled into depression. Alongside that came an extremely busy time at school. A year passed, then another.

“As that time of year approached, that anniversary, something always hit me, like, do something. Do something. Do something,” he said.

Finally, one day in March 2018, he made a decision. He told himself, “Okay, maybe you should just start small. And do something rather than nothing, rather than sit around for years, looking for what [to] do to give back.”

The decision was made and it was simple: “I’m gonna do what I love to do and just run,” he said. “I’m going to run and donate. I’ll put it on Instagram. I’ll ask other people to match my $1 donation to the OCRA per mile, dollar per dollar.”

He started #runningformoms and chose the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance (OCRA)  as the recipient of his donations. Running was a way to raise awareness and, for Jonathan himself, a way to give back. OCRA is “one of the largest non-profits specifically dedicated to tackling ovarian cancer on all fronts: the research side, the government side, and the patient side,” as Jonathan said. As he racked up miles, the money started to flow in. He got the ball moving.

“And from there it just kinda kept rolling,” he said.

 What’s one thing you wish you’d learned sooner?

“Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

“It comes back to ‘life is so precious.’ We put so much pressure on ourselves. We worry about so many things and we always wanna be at the next place, never where I am right now. Life is precious; live in the moment.”

Eventually, after a setback the previous year, he held a fundraising event at a local bar in San Francisco in 2019. During that one event, he raised $10,000.

“Which I never expected; my goal was $5,000. And then that just snowballed,” he said.

Jonathan never thought that snowball would roll upwards and past the six-digit sum that he passed on March 1 this year.

From one fundraiser to the next, Jonathan eventually planned to have one at the top of the Salesforce Tower, the tallest tower in San Francisco.

“It’s beautiful. And it has 360° views of the entire bay, of San Francisco,” he said.

Salesforce donates the top floor to charity events and Jonathan managed to get his fundraiser on their calendar.

“We finally got it,” he said.

The excitement was palpable. He and his team set up a huge event. A lot of effort went into planning this fundraiser, the biggest one Jonathan had ever organized.

“And that was when covid hit.”

The event was set to take place in March 2020. Jonathan turned the whole thing virtual, and so it stayed for a couple of years. However, there were a few moments Jonathan described as “cute” in relation to these virtual fundraisers.

The San Francisco Marathon & Fundraising in Kona with Kathy

“Every year, I want to do the SF Marathon for as long as I can walk or live,” Jonathan said.

He hasn’t missed a single event since he first ran the race, completing it eight times so far. In 2019, Jonathan couldn’t run the race because of an injury.

“But, of course, I was determined to do the marathon. So I walked it,” he said.

His resolve was tested again the very next year. When the world shut down in 2020, so did most races. One of these races was the San Francisco Marathon which, for that year, went fully virtual. Jonathan was also still recovering from his injuries when he found himself in Kona, realizing he didn’t have much time left.

“The end of the year was coming and I thought, I can’t skip a year!” he said.

He wanted to run the virtual race on the official course in San Francisco, however, renewed quarantine orders made that impossible. He wouldn’t be back in the city before the end of the year.

It was Christmas when Jonathan met his partner’s friend’s mother, a Kona Ironwoman World Champion, Kathy Winkler. She’d secured her spot in the Kona Ironman World Championships seven times and earned the podium six times, winning twice. Jonathan and her connected and started running together. According to what they shared with each other, neither of them was really in the shape to run a marathon. On New Year’s Eve, they did it anyway.

Winkler kept telling Jonathan that she’d hold him back.

“Yeah, right. She was so fast! It was ridiculous,” said Jonathan.

They finished the virtual San Francisco Marathon which was also a part of another virtual fundraiser. By the end of the event, they’d raised $30,000.

Besides raising funds for ovarian cancer research and completing another year of the San Francisco Marathon (albeit virtually), that New Year’s Eve run was meaningful to Jonathan for one more reason: Kathy. This very run with her was one of these “cute,” good things that came out of the virtual fundraisers.

“Just running with her was very special,” Jonathan said. “I’ve been running for moms and, for the first time, I had run with a mom.”

In a month, Jonathan will toe the starting line of the San Francisco Marathon again. Officially, it will be his eighth one, however…

“This year, it will be my ninth San Francisco Marathon, counting the year that they don’t count. They don’t technically count the virtual one… so by their records, it’s year eight, but by my records, it’s [year] nine,” he said.

The Running Community & Its People

The running community is a vibrant place full of people from all different walks of life. From long weekend runs to short weekday workouts, people from many other communities lace up their shoes and gather to hit the roads, trails, or tracks. Some prefer to run alone, some with a group of friends, and all are welcome at the many Taco Tuesday Night and Monday Morning Motivation group runs that can be found all around.

These are the communities where everybody can find a place to belong and people to laugh with. However, sometimes, it takes time to find these places and people.

“Growing up gay, and after losing my mother,… from time to time, you definitely feel alone,” said Jonathan.

Nowadays, he uses his voice within several communities to show others who might be struggling that no matter who they are and where they came from, there’s always someone who will understand. There are always people who have gone through the same things and can offer support.

“I want to be able to just share my story,” Jonathan said. “Be vulnerable to show everybody else that it can get better. And it does get better. And you’re not alone.”

Many people reach out to Jonathan to share their stories or to simply connect. He’s thankful to be in those communities; for him, it’s a way to empower others.

“Whether it’s in the LGBTQIA+ community or other moms and cancer survivors, it surprises me how many people actually reach out,” he said. “Even a simple DM on Instagram, a two-minute chat with someone, can change the way I think about the impact that we have by sharing our stories.”

Is there anyone, besides your parents, that you look up to?

“Of course, I look up to my mom. There are so many people I have on the top of my tongue now so I want to choose this one wisely.”

“My thesis adviser, I look up to a lot. He’s the first one that came to my mind, Francis Szoka. He’s just an amazing, genuine human being. I was in graduate school when my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I was in his lab at the time, and he was an adviser to me in terms of my career and my scientific journey but was also a supporter of me and my family. My mom eventually became friends with him.

He was actually an inventor of what eventually became a drug that was used to treat her cancer. He invented a part of that drug very early on in his career.

In addition to his scientific guidance, he was always supportive of what I needed to do to be there for my family. After 13 years, I still go to him for advice. He always supported [my mom] and would send her boxes of candy every year. She loved See’s candy and at the time, you could only get them in San Francisco, or at least California. You couldn’t get them in Michigan.”

Running with Jonathan Sockolosky

Throughout June, Jonathan will be leading morning group runs in San Francisco. With these runs, he hopes to support the community and “inspire [people] to run or to keep running.”

Even though he’s usually not a group runner, he’s looking forward to those runs because of the people he’ll meet there.

“I just love people. I love meeting all different kinds of people and hearing their stories,” he said.

You can join Jonathan every Tuesday morning at 6:00 a.m. at the entrance to Kezar Stadium at the corner of Fredrick and Willard (What3Words address: ///these.unless.term).

Join Jonathan July 24th at The San Francisco Marathon:

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