Running for a cause is a worthy endeavor, often motivated by personal experience or loss.
Dr. John W. Castellani of Oxford was one of nearly 500 Dana- Farber team runners in the 12th Annual B.A.A. Half Marathon in October to support the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy fund.
For John, his specific motivation was to honor the 10th anniversary of the passing of his 18-year old niece Meghan, who died of leukemia in 2002. When we spoke with John shortly after he ran the race, he said, “There’s not a day I don’t think about her. Cancer has been part of my life. It’s in my family.”
His father was diagnosed with testicular cancer and died when John was 13. Last fall, his uncle also died of cancer. Both his grandmothers had breast cancer. A year ago his sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and earlier this year his mother was diagnosed with melanoma. Both are out of treatment now and doing well, he said.
“As a researcher myself, I know how hard it is to understand the science behind why good cells turn into bad cells.”
Dana-Farber team members commit to raising at least $500 to support adult and pediatric cancer care and research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The team has raised more than $3 million in the last ten years.
The B.A.A. Half Marathon attracts a field of 7,000 runners, including world-class athletes. The 13.1 mile rolling course is an out-and-back loop that runs along Boston’s Emerald Necklace park system.
John’s preparation for the run is a story in itself. In the summer of 2011 he had spinal fusion surgery which kept him immobile for months. He’d always been very active and “was going nuts” last fall until he could walk again. In November he started running. He was determined to get back into the best possible condition, and also resumed his Beachbody P90X workouts. By May he “was feeling in pretty good shape.”
He signed up to run for the Dana-Farber team “just because I wanted to run for charity.” His time for the 13.1 miles was two hours, five minutes, and 27 seconds. Will he do it again next year? “Yes, it was a lot of fun running the race. The wheelchairs go first. Then the runners go, and all you can see is people. The training was doable. I did the long runs, eight miles or more, on weekends.” His goal next year will be to get in under the two-hour mark.
Dr. Castellani’s emphasis on fitness seems a natural extension of the work he does as an exercise physiologist and researcher at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) in Natick. USARIEM laboratories deal with Warfighter performance science and its useful applications. Researchers study environmental medicine, physiology, performance and nutrition. Dr. Castellani is currently researching the affect of temperature on human performance. He didn’t tell us this himself, but he is considered one of the top environmental physiologists in the world.
Dr. Castellani’s lab has chambers which mimic battleground conditions in temperatures ranging from 60 degrees below zero to 140 above. For example, he said, “In Iraq temperatures in the summer go up to 110 degrees. We want to find out what’s going on with a soldier biologically when he’s wearing full body armor in that heat, so that we can help our soldiers perform better when they are placed in those environments.”
Complementing John’s focus on physiology both at work and on the road is yet another, perhaps more serene, aspect of his life: Yoga. He also teaches yoga at a studio in Auburn.
For Dr. John W. Castellani, running for a cause has aligned perfectly with working for a cause.