Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

The Story of Me

More Than Just Fundraising

My brother, James, was a classmate and friend of Danielle (Gillian's sister). My sister, Julia, was a classmate and friend of Gillian. We always talk about what a small world it is that both sets of siblings randomly ended up going to college together--James and Danielle at Harvard and Julia and Gillian at UPenn. Through my siblings, my family and I had the pleasure of getting to know the Reny's. So, when my family and I first heard about Gillian back in 2013, we vowed to do anything we could to help her. We kept her in our thoughts, sent her messages, and remained positive about her (at times) negative prognosis. Less than a year later, when the Reny's started Stepping Strong, we purchased the team t-shirts to show our support for the incredible organization. Each year after that, it became tradition to purchase that year's t-shirt, and to take that as a moment of reflection. But, in 2016, when I came to Harvard, I decided just buying an annual t-shirt was not enough. As I started to get to know Boston, learning first about its beauty, then about the resiliency and overwhelming pride of its people, I knew I wanted to show my support for Gillian and her home city of Boston. So, in the fall of my freshman year, I committed to run 26 miles and raise $10,000 for the best organization in the world. 

Getting Involved Outside Harvard

Besides wanting to support a friend, I was drawn to Stepping Strong because it was an activity outside of the Harvard community. I am involved with the IOP and Mission Hill, and while they are amazing organizations, they both stem from Harvard-based programs. Part of moving away from home and being in a new place means having a whole new city to explore and learn from. I have found it so important to be involved in activities through school (like the IOP or Mission Hill), but I also think involving myself in something bigger than the Harvard sphere was one of the best decisions. Throughout my time with Stepping Strong, I met students from other schools, young professionals, moms, dads, and other dedicated members of the Boston-area community. I was able to learn and hear from people in a diverse range of ages, occupations, genders, and life experiences, all gathering around one cause. Being able to connect with a broader community through service immensely influenced my sense of purpose on Harvard's campus. I feel more connected to the outside community, but also to Harvard. I am more open to new people and experiences, and have an appreciation for hearing stories that are different from mine. Although the stories are different, I am able to unite with people under common principles and service roles. Below is a photo of a father and son whom I had the pleasure of getting to know through the team. Their experiences and reasons for running were vastly different from mine, but we united and became friends under Stepping Strong. 

Training, Training, Training!

Running a marathon was no easy task. But, with the goal of bettering trauma care through fundraising and  giving more awareness to the cause, I was motivated to run through rain, snow, sleet, hills, dirt, and anything else thrown my way. Personally, the difficult training made the experience more worthwhile not only because of the number of hours I was putting in, but because it allowed for me to understand the gift I have been given of having two functioning legs. Whenever the training was difficult, I would tell myself, "I am running for those who can't" and it would make the cold, wind, rain, or sleet, so much more bearable. Below is a video of my brother, mom, dad, and several friends cheering me on at mile 17, just when I was running out of steam and needed the push they gave me! To see them at mile 17, and then at mile 26 when I finished, was so rewarding and heartwarming. 

One Year Out

This year, I will not be running the marathon because of the steep fundraising goal I reached last year. Instead, I am running the 5k and hopefully the 10k and Falmouth Road Race to show my continued support for Stepping Strong. Despite not running this year, I am still able to see the impact of my personal journey reflected in several spheres. First, I was able to see first hand where my fundraising dollars were going when I attended the ribbon cutting ceremony for the trauma center at the Brigham. To see that my fundraising was making a visible, tangible difference at the hospital and in the community was an incredible experience. As the "about" page mentions, I was able to contribute to the over $11 million raised for the center and for the patients. I also was able to meet several patients and hear their harrowing, but uplifting, trauma stories and how the Brigham has been helping them. Finally, and perhaps the most touching to my personal story, is that my best friend was so inspired by the Reny story that she decided to run the marathon this year. She has raised over $40,000 for Stepping Strong and has become a dedicated member of the Stepping Strong community. To see something I worked hard on and grew to love become so important to my friend has been the best gift from this experience. Turn to the "Story of Us" page to learn more about Gabi. 


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