Featured Gretchen Schoenstein Shamrock 2024 Editorial
July 3, 2024

Two Half-Marathons in Two Days on Two Coasts to Support BRI

In March, Gretchen Schoenstein took the bold challenge of running two half-marathons on two coasts in two days. Her mission: to rally people around Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month and to raise funds for BRI’s Innovation Fund.

“I’ve lived with autoimmune diseases since I was 9,” Gretchen says. “It’s lonely. Sometimes you feel invisible. But when I walked into a BRI luncheon 10 years ago, I finally felt seen. I felt like my experience mattered and that they were doing everything they could to make life better for people with these diseases.”

Gretchen has been a BRI supporter ever since that luncheon in 2014. Her recent fundraiser raised $12,500 and counting for the Innovation Fund. We asked her about her experience and her biggest takeaways.

What Inspired this Challenge?

I’ve run both the Rock ‘n’ Roll half-marathon in Washington, D.C., and the Shamrock Run half-marathon in Portland, Oregon, before. But their schedules changed this year so they were on the same weekend in March. I was signed up for both and I didn’t know how I was going to choose. Then, in the middle of the night, I realized that maybe I didn’t have to. What if I could do one on Saturday and one on Sunday?

March is Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month — the perfect time to rally people around awareness and fundraising for autoimmune disease research. I found a direct flight from D.C. to Portland after the first race. I reached out to BRI first thing the next morning.

Featured Gretchen Shoenstein Airplane 2024 Editorial

What was the Hardest Part?

The plane ride from D.C. to Portland was the most uncomfortable flight of my life. I’ve run the Portland half-marathon before but I forgot how hilly it is! Around mile four or five I realized that I was going to have to dig deep for the whole race.

I had this vision of powering across that finish line. But when that moment came, my body said “nope.” Truth be told, I barely made it across the finish line because my legs were so wobbly. I didn’t feel strong but I felt victorious. That’s when every emotion I had leading up to the races, training, and passing by each mile marker caught up with me — and I broke down crying.

What Kept You Motivated?

This effort was so much bigger than myself. The more people I told what I was doing, the more stories people shared: the pilot on the flight to Portland whose sister-in-law is battling rheumatoid arthritis; the reporter whose mom and sister live with autoimmune diseases; the woman at the finish line who didn’t say what she was going through, but quietly told me, do you have any idea how much what you’re doing means to people?

I run because I can. I know that I do not always feel good. So, when I do, I take the world by storm. I did these races to pass on the hope. I wanted to tell the world about BRI scientists seeking cures for diseases others say are incurable, and do everything I can to support them.

Why Support BRI's Innovation Fund?

New ideas, different questions, innovative technologies — that’s what will make big advances. I also love that this fund requires scientists from different labs to team up, doing together what they could not do alone. 

Now, more than ever, that idea resonates with me. I was able to cross both finish lines because I wasn’t doing it for myself. I was doing it for everyone who lives with autoimmune diseases. I was doing it for the researchers relentlessly working toward cures for not one, but all autoimmune diseases. If there’s one thing I’ll walk away from this experience with, it’s this: There is no limit to what we can accomplish with a strong purpose, a motivated team and a community by your side every step of the way.

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