Team JAF Boston Marathon Runner Sarah DeVillers

Running was not originally a passion for 20-year-old Sarah DeVillers. She played sports growing up and through high school, and running was undoubtedly part of the training. It wasn’t until after COVID that Sarah started running and began to fall for it. And after her dad’s passing, running became an outlet when she needed it.

Sarah is running the 2024 Boston Marathon as part of Team JAF in memory of her dad, David, who passed away from multiple myeloma in September 2022 after a nine-year battle.

As Sarah started to get serious about running, the New Hampshire native took on bigger challenges, including the 2023 Dana-Farber 5K in April and a half marathon later in the year. After completing the half marathon following the loss of her father, she decided to take the next step and run a full marathon.

David DeVillers was diagnosed with cancer when Sarah was in fourth grade. Doctors found signs of the disease after he had broken his back. She didn’t fully grasp what that meant then; her family always referred to the diagnosis as the “c-word.” As she got older, she understood what it meant and what her dad was going through.

“[We] always used the motto “piece of cake,” [we] have it on a license plate now. It was something my dad would say before a treatment.” Sarah said. “My  Dad would go to treatment and then go to work, which I don’t know how he did that.”

David went through years of treatment and monitoring, including a stem cell transplant in New Hampshire, which probably extended his life by seven or eight years. Things started to turn for the worse in the summer of 2022, as Sarah was getting set to begin her first year at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, CT. Doctors eventually tried Car T cell therapy, but his cancer was far too advanced for the treatment to have a chance to be effective.

When Sarah decided to run the marathon and was looking for an organization, she found the Joe Andruzzi Foundation, whose mission is to relieve the financial burden for families facing a cancer diagnosis. The connection to her own experiences resonated with her.

“It’s families battling through what my family went through…I feel like [JAF] was something my dad would’ve donated to and what he would’ve wanted to raise money for.”

Health, hope, and happiness are three of the words JAF uses to describe their organization, and Sarah felt they were three words her dad lived by. She saw her dad’s strength as he tried to work as long as he could while also going through treatments. He also saw the potential burden for a family having to navigate a cancer diagnosis.

“People don’t see that side of the diagnosis; there are many other things. People shouldn’t have to worry about paying an electric bill or putting food on the table. So many families out there are experiencing that,” Sarah added.

Sarah has been following the Charity Teams running plan, training for what she thinks will be the most “surreal experience” of her life. She’s been training on treadmills during the winter months, finding trails near and around campus, and traveling back home to New Hampshire and down to Boston on Saturdays to participate in the group runs. Being part of Team JAF has been one of the most inspiring parts of Sarah’s journey.

“Everyone is running for a different purpose, and that’s what’s so cool and empowering,” Sarah said. “That you can see where your money is going and that it is helping people is so motivating, that you are helping people you don’t even know.”

It’s all part of the connection to her dad’s journey and memory that will be with Sarah as she runs her first marathon this April in Boston.

“I live every day to the fullest. Knowing he went through so much treatment, I can run this, too, and so that’s been my motivation.”

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