By ERIN BLASKO - Follow me @ErinBlasko
South Bend Tribune
8:36 PM EST, November 8, 2012
SOUTH BEND -- A journey born out of tragedy and almost ended by it will finally end Saturday for Dr. Bill Gitlin, though not in the place he expected.
A South Bend dentist, Gitlin had planned to run the New York City Marathon last Sunday in honor of his former partner in practice, Dr. Angie Hazlewood Murat, who died of lymphoma in October 2011.
The 60-year-old had trained for months with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training, which helps train runners to participate in marathons and other races around the country as a way to raise money for cancer research.
And with the help of Amy Hazlewood, Murat's mother and a longtime hygienist in Gitlin's practice, he had managed to raise $6,000 for the society, plus an additional $22,000, which he planned to gift to a yet to be determined cancer research center.
Post-tropical storm Sandy interrupted Gitlin's plans, though. The downgraded hurricane, which caused widespread destruction in the Caribbean before churning north up the East Coast, struck New York City on Oct. 29, six days before the race.
The storm flooded parts of the city, leaving thousands without power. And it destroyed much of Staten Island, where the marathon was supposed to start. More than a week later, many in the borough remain homeless and without power.
In the days after the storm, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg insisted the race would go on. On the Friday before the race, however, he canceled it.
Gitlin was on his way to a dinner hosted by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society when he heard the news.
"I was in town probably four to five hours and I was walking out the door of my hotel to go to dinner ... when I got a text from somebody, sort of apologetic, about it being canceled," he recalled by phone earlier this week from his hotel in New York. "So I went to this dinner with everybody sort of in a state of shock, really surprised that they did it at that late of a date.
"But I have to say, they made the right call. It was pretty clear from the devastation, especially on Staten Island, where the race was supposed to start, that it should not have happened."
Gitlin hung out in the city Saturday. When he awoke Sunday, he had an idea. He composed an e-mail to Hazlewood.
"Amy, I'm wide awake at 5:30 on the morning I should be on a bus going out to Staten Island to complete this journey," he wrote. "Of course I'm not on that bus, and neither is anyone else. Our TNT Flex team is planning a 10-mile run this morning, but somehow for me it will be a little less than satisfying.
"A thought occurred to me," he wrote. "Why don't we do something in South Bend? How about a run/walk along the river this Saturday? ... we can dedicate the run to Angie, thus really making it Dr. Angie's Run to Fight Lymphoma."
Hazlewood liked the idea. She sent an e-mail to friends and family members, inviting them to participate in the event. She also contacted the local Red Cross, which agreed to send a representative to collect money for storm victims.
The walk/run is set to take place at 9 a.m. Saturday at Veterans Memorial Park, on Northside Boulevard next to Indiana University South Bend. The course will run along the river to Howard Park and back, a distance of about four miles.
"To tell you the truth, this is pretty loosely organized, and I have no idea what to expect," Gitlin said.
Hazlewood said she notified about 300 people about the race by e-mail and also posted a notice about it on Murat's Facebook page, which she has been keeping up.
She said she doesn't know what to expect, but that it will be nice regardless to have some closure after the way things ended in New York.
"I think it definitely is going to just make us all feel better, that Dr. Gitlin will get to complete his task," she said.
As a result of his professional relationship with Hazlewood, which dates back more than 30 years, Gitlin had known Murat since she was a child. She was his patient before she was his partner.
"She joined us about six years or so before she passed away," Gitlin said. "I don't remember the exact date, I think it was 2005.
"And you know, of course, she's Amy's daughter, and Amy has worked for us for a long time ... (so) when Angie decided to become a dentist, it was really cool. And when she decided to join us in practice, it was great."
Gitlin first considered running another marathon back in early 2011. He had run the Sunburst Marathon about 28 years earlier, at the age of 32. He trained, but not much, and finished in a little over four hours. He would be 60 soon, and he wondered if he could do it again.
"I hadn't run any kind of distance like that since then, and I didn't have any desire to," he said. "About a year to a year and a half ago, though, I started to wonder if I have any of these left in me."
He started training, he said, but soon gave up. "Quite honestly. I was too lazy to do it," he said.
About the same time, Murat, who had been getting better, became sick again.
"She got diagnosed in January 2011 ... and she was doing very well," her mother said. "They got all the cancer and she went back to work. Then one day she got really confused. We thought she was dehydrated from the chemotherapy, but it turned out the cancer had gone to her brain."
It was all the motivation Gitlin needed.
"I was out on a run over Labor Day 2011 and at this point Angie was pretty sick ... and the thought occurred to me that if I was really going to run a marathon I needed some incentive to do it, and I knew about the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training ... so that's kind of how the idea started," Gitlin said.
"He said, 'I'm gonna be 60, and I need some inspiration to go through those horrendous workouts, so I'm going to use Angie as my inspiration,'" Hazlewood recalled.
A few weeks later, Murat died. She was 37.
"She was just very warm and funny and vivacious," Gitlin recalled, "and you know she was just a terrific person."
"She loved music," her mother said. "And she was just a really smart and really fun person, and she really had a lot friends."
Gitlin contacted the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team soon after. But it wasn't until March that he learned that he had been accepted as a member of the society's Team in Training for the marathon, guaranteeing him a spot in the race.
He started training.
"I started in June, and every week I worked along a program they (the Team in Training) laid out," he said. "And at the end of it, I did two 20-mile runs, so I felt like I was pretty much prepared. I really felt like I was pretty much ready to go.
"And then the hurricane happened."
Burying the past
On the Saturday before the race was to have occurred, Gitlin took off from his hotel and made his way to Central Park. He walked through the park and toward the spot where the race was supposed to have finished.
About the time Murat died, Gitlin started wearing a wristband with her name on it: Dr. Angie. He intended to wear it across the finish line, then bury it in the park.
It almost didn't happen, though, and not only because of the storm.
"I lost it," he said. "And then sometime around mid-September, my wife showed me this wristband that she thought was the one I was wearing -- she found it outside in the yard -- and the wristband said 'Dr. Angie.' It was really pretty strange. It was right at the time I had completed my first 20-mile run.
"So I put that wristband back on and I told Amy about it, and I thought it'd be a nice thing to maybe bury it in Central Park after the race."
Standing there near the finish line, he removed the wristband. He knelt down and buried it in a small hole.
He felt, if not complete, then more whole, at least. It felt good.
"For me, that was something I wanted to do, and I got to do that," he said. "And if they had had the race I would not have been able to do that, I would have had to sneak away somewhere in the middle of the park."
Said Hazlewood, "There's a word in Hebrew: mensch. And, I mean, he is like prime example of a mensch, because he does things for people all the time and wants no recognition. He's just a modest guy, so I think he'd just appreciate being recognized for going through all this."
Consider it done.
Staff writer Erin Blasko:
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