By: Amy Friel
For Jordan Milchman, signing up for the Race Roster Spring Run-Off was supposed to signify a long-awaited return to running after a year beset by injury.
Milchman, who completed his first-ever half-marathon two years ago at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, spent the better part of 2016 dealing with a persistent back injury. By January of this year, a newly-recovered Milchman started looking at goal races for 2017.
With its notoriously challenging course winding through the hills of High Park, the Race Roster Spring Run-Off looked to him like the perfect tune-up on the road to a spring return to the half-marathon distance.
“I’ve never done an 8K before,” Milchman explains. “So I thought, I’m automatically gonna set a personal best.” Excited by the prospect of racing again, he signed up.
Two days later, things changed, when Milchman’s colleague and longtime friend Colleen Liao was diagnosed with cancer.
Liao, who Milchman describes as “my coworker, my buddy, and one of the best people I know”, is no stranger to the disease. Four years earlier, shortly after Colleen and her husband Len learned that they were expecting their first child, Liao was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer.
“Colleen is a certified badass,” Milchman says of his friend, who underwent a lumpectomy at 12 weeks pregnant, followed by chemotherapy at 22 weeks.
Her body responded well to the treatment, with Liao receiving the much hoped-for “all clear” from her doctors shortly before the birth of her son, Chase. Newly cancer-free and relishing life as a new mom, Liao returned to work, where she and Milchman became fast friends, bonding over a shared irreverent sense of humour.
“We always found each other funny,” he recalls of their early days working together. “We laughed a lot.”
So when his friend learned early this year that her cancer had returned, Milchman decided to enter the Race Roster Spring Run-Off to support Liao.
Along with a few friends, Milchman switched his individual registration to a charity entry and began fundraising as the captain of “Team Colleen”. And though the team’s goals were modest at first, the response to their cause has been anything but.
“When we started out, our team goal was $3,000,” he recalls. “I think we hit that on the first day. A lot of people have been quite generous.”
Donations to Team Colleen benefit the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, a global leader in cancer research, and one of the largest comprehensive cancer treatment facilities in the world.
With less than two weeks until race day on Saturday, April 8th, Team Colleen has now raised more than $8,000 and counting towards their revised $10,000 goal. Looking over the list of individual donations, Milchman notes that much of it has come from fellow friends and colleagues who, like him, have been touched by Liao’s enduring tenacity and indomitable spirit in the face of what appear to be increasingly long odds.
For her part, Liao has chosen to focus on spending time with her husband and three-year-old son since her rediagnosis, prioritizing her health, family, and happiness as much as possible.
“Colleen is a very strong person,” Milchman says. “She’s very positive, very upbeat. She knows what’s coming, but she just stays very positive.”
Her outlook has had a ripple effect. With friends, colleagues, and strangers alike throwing their support behind Team Colleen, donations in support of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre continue to pour in. It’s a momentum that Milchman hopes will continue right up to race day, and beyond.
“We have all been connected to cancer in one way or another,” he says. “We’re doing what we can to ensure we never have to encounter it again.”
To support Team Colleen and the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, or to get involved with fundraising, visit their fundraising page.
Support Team Colleen: http://runcrs.co/2o7R9Ra
Make a general donation to the event: http://runcrs.co/2nh6OsG
We thank participants for raising money for the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and look forward to seeing you at the Race Roster Spring Run-Off on April 8th.
Registration is still open at http://springrunoff.ca