Inspired by Mill Creek 4-year-old's cancer struggle, Braden Woods resident sets sights on Boston Marathon.
It was a quiet, windy day in Summerfield Park, just perfect for a little girl and her pinwheel.
Gianna Lesselroth would take off on a run, often sidetracked by some pretty flowers. She would stop to pick at a flower, then would get back to the task of watching her pinwheel spin. Then it would be off again on a run.
Not far away, her mom, Marissa Lesselroth, kept an eye on her.
Marissa Lesselroth has to appreciate the quiet moments, because most of the first four years of Gianna's life has been anything but.
Consider in September of 2015, when more than 75 cruisers from police departments all over Massachusetts gave Gianna and her then 5-year-old brother, Logan, a police escort to the Tewksbury Police Department. The two children were on the verge of a risky stem cell transplant and the law enforcement groups wanted to show their support with an event put together by the Cops for Kids nonprofit.
At 4 months old, Gianna was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and went through treatment that left her in remission for two years. In May 2015, the leukemia had returned. Her parents, Michael and Marissa Lesselroth, started a nationwide search to find options for their daughter. They eventually found the Dana-Farber Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.
The course was set. Gianna needed to fine a bone marrow match and the search began. Eventually, 457 people went to the Bradenton Police Department to be checked to see if they were a match in order to help the little girl. None were.
Eventually, doctors decided to use Logan as the donor. The procedure was performed Sept. 24, 2015 with Logan pressing a button that started the transfer of his blood stem cells. In Boston Children's Hospital's Insight publication, Gianna was quoted as saying, "This is a gift from your body," as her brother started the procedure.
Since that time, things have quieted down for the Lesselroths, who are all back together at their Mill Creek home, hoping Gianna can now focus on truly important things, such as playing with the pinwheel.
Reading about Gianna's travails, Braden Woods Tara Motzenbecker had an idea. She would run in the 121st Boston Marathon, April 17, as part of Boston Children's Hospital Miles for Miracles team. Gianna Lesselroth would be her "partner" in the endeavor and money raised would be donated to the children's hospital in Gianna's name.
Motzenbecker and her husband, Jared, have two children, 7-year-old Zoe and 5-year-old John. She couldn't imagine going through the ordeal the Lesselroths have been forced to endure.
"I had read her story and about her bone marrow drive," Motzenbecker said. "It breaks a mother's heart to read that."
Motzenbecker got in touch with Marissa Lesselroth and ask if they would participate in her effort. Although she wasn't familiar with the program, Marissa Lesselroth wanted to give something back to the children's hospital which treated them so well.
"If you have to go through something like this, that was the place to be," Marissa Lesselroth said of Boston Children's Hospital. "It was something special."
At 36, Motzenbecker only has been running for four years, so she isn't likely to get much attention during the race. All the attention she wants will be before the race in her attempt to raise funds.
"When I was in school, I was about as far away from an athlete as you could imagine," Motzenbecker said. "I was always the one with a tummy ache during gym class."
Her first running event was the Jingle Bell 5K, which at the time was still being run in downtown Bradenton. Her cousin had asked her to run and she said she would, think her cousin eventually would forget. She didn't.
"Physically, it was not great," Motzenbecker said of her first race. "But the atmosphere was threat and the people had so much energy."
She built to the point where she ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 2015 in Washington D.C. "I had IT band (Iliotibial band) issues," I couldn't bend my knee and I finished in 5 hours and 13 minutes. It was not a pretty time."
Motzenbecker is willing to experience that pain again to raise money for a good cause.
In support, the Lesselroths have been sending her letters and photos of Gianna.
"She is just adorable," Motzenbecker said.
Motzenbecker and the Lesselroths are hoping to get together a few times for special events before the Boston Marathon and Marissa Lesselroth said she hopes her family can get to the race. Miles for Miracles has a special viewing section near the finish of the race.
The trip to Boston would be for a more pleasant experience.
"It has been hard, but you just do what you have to do for your kids," Marissa Lesselroth said. "Being positive is a big part of it. We always remain positive and hopeful
"This is part of our life now. There is not a day that goes by we don't think about it."