REPOSTED from NYRR – New York Road Runners

Each year, there’s a face in the TCS New York City Marathon field that’s especially familiar to runners and spectators from northeastern and central Pennsylvania.

Ryan Leckey, a morning news reporter at WNEP-TV in Scranton, PA, has made a tradition out of taking on the New York City Marathon with a team of runners from the WNEP viewing area—all for a cause that’s close to the community’s heart.

WNEP’s Team Allied Services is a fundraiser that leverages the reach of local TV to raise money for Allied Services, a non-profit organization that provides rehabilitation services to individuals managing chronic conditions or recovering from illness, injury, or surgery.

The team has grown from just five runners who raised $100,000 in 2010, to 50 runners who raised more than $500,000 in 2016, putting Allied on par with nationally and internationally recognized TCS New York City Marathon charity partners.

“Our campaign has been the little engine that could,” says Leckey. “We’re delivering big-city dollars and big changes to people’s lives.”

In its first seven years, Team Allied Services raised $2.1 million.

“The amazing viewers of WNEP are really the reason our campaign has been so successful,” says Leckey. “They are giving, and they care about helping their neighbors. People in this part of the country have each other’s backs.”

Lauren Summa, a teacher from Scranton who will run her first marathon on November 5, feels that sense of community each time she’s at Allied.

Her son Jack has a rare genetic condition called Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome. “He faces challenges with nearly every facet of his daily life, from walking and talking to eating and using the bathroom,” she explains. “Jack has grown from a 3-year-old boy with no ability to communicate or ambulate to a bustling first-grader who uses sign language, spells, reads, and never rests!”

Lauren and Jake huggingLauren and Jake giving each other a kiss

“He loves going to Allied for his therapies,” Summa adds. “The staff all know him and treat him like their own. The pediatric waiting room has also become an unofficial therapist’s office for me. I can talk and connect with other parents who have children with disabilities.”

Just like Summa, each member of the Team Allied Services team dedicates their 26.2 miles to someone receiving care at Allied. “Most of the runners have a personal connection, whether they have a grandmother recovering from a stroke or they’re a parent of a child with a disability,” explains Leckey, who’s running on behalf of Jake, a 5-year-old born with spina bifida.

“He’s a super cool kid,” says Leckey, who met Jake when he was in wheelchair. Today, Jake’s walking and playing like any child his age.

Ryan's run and Jake

Jake (left) shows off his skills at the 2015 All-Abilities Walk. “It’s like the Super Bowl of Allied,” says Leckey (right).

Bringing high-tech treatment to small towns

The funds raised through Team Allied Services allow Allied to invest in cutting-edge rehab technology that not only improves the lives of kids like Jack and Jake, but also saves local families time and money by not having to travel to cities like Philadelphia or New York for treatment.

Following the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon, donations funded the purchase of three robotics- and computer-assisted therapy devices, among many other pieces of rehab equipment.

“On a daily basis, I am blessed with the opportunity to experience the benefits that WNEP’s Team Allied Services has provided to my patients,” says Jaclyn Henry, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Allied Services Skilled Nursing & Rehabilitation Center.

In fact, it’s what drove her to join the Team Allied Services 8 team and train for her second marathon. “Being part of a group of runners who constantly support and inspire each other is one of my favorite parts,” she says.

Jaclyn standing with her specialistPhysical therapist Jaclyn Henry (left) is dedicating her marathon to her patient Colleen Birmelin (right).

While training for her own 26.2, Henry also helped coach 50 of her Allied colleagues though a 5K training program. The group met twice a week for 10 weeks and ran their first 3.1-miler on October 7 at WNEP’s Team Allied Services 5K.

The event also includes an All-Abilities Walk, which gives pediatric and adult patients at Allied an opportunity to show off new skills, whether that means improved use of a wheelchair or walking with or without an assistive device.

“The joy on their faces is something I’ll always remember,” says Henry. “Independence at any level is a magical thing.”

The fundraising effort that never sleeps

In addition to hosting an annual 5K, the Team Allied Services team organizes a variety of fundraising events, from happy hours to kickball tournaments to pool parties.

“It’s become a year-round effort that hones in our three big goals—inspiring fitness, challenging disability, and changing lives,” says Leckey. An avid CrossFitter, he has a favorite among the fundraisers: Clash for Cash, a fitness competition at Mohegan Sun Pocono casino in Wilkes-Barre, PA, that invites teams to battle it out over burpees and box jumps.

Kids get in on the fundraising action, too.

In the lead-up to the TCS New York City Marathon, Team Allied Services hosts a School Rules contest to help youth become more aware of people with disabilities. Students are encouraged to come up with creative fundraiser ideas, and the school that raises the money appears on live TV in late October.

Outside of the classroom, teachers can implement the Kick-Start Running Club, a five-week 5K training program that encourages kids and their families to run for a good cause. Participating schools are matched with a Team Allied Services team member who provides training advice and tips for staying motivated, and the program concludes with the WNEP Team Allied Services 5K.  

Jaclyn Henry (front, right) gets a group of Allied employees ready to take on their first 5K.

Jaclyn Henry (front, right) gets a group of Allied employees ready to take on their first 5K. 

With full hearts and strong bodies, they’re ready to race

With so much meaning behind each runner’s 26.2 miles, the Team Allied Services team couldn’t be more excited for November 5.

“Not only will the TCS New York City Marathon be my first marathon, but it will be the first race I have taken part in since I was on my high school’s cross-country team almost 20 years ago,” says Summa. “Every year, our team would set up a water station at mile 24 of the Steamtown Marathon in Scranton. I remember being so inspired by the thousands of runners, and I knew that someday I wanted to complete a marathon myself.”

Finding the right charity was key to Summa tackling her lifelong goal. “If you’re doing something that you truly hold dear, you’ll find that warrior within yourself,” she says.

The race will also be a big life accomplishment for Henry, who hasn’t run 26.2 since the 2013 Steamtown Marathon. “I am looking forward to everything,” she says. “The night-before nerves, the bus ride to the charity village where I’ll finally be together with all of my 50 teammates, the euphoria I’ll feel with all the spectators cheering us on, and of course crossing the prestigious finish line.”

“It gives you chills and almost makes you tear up thinking about how passionate the city is about this race,” says Leckey, who will traverse the five boroughs alongside his morning photographer, Corey Burns, and Julie Sidoni, an evening anchor at WNEP.

Ryan Leckey (left) and his colleagues take part in the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon Opening Ceremony Presented by United Airlines.

Ryan Leckey (left) and his colleagues take part in the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon Opening Ceremony Presented by United Airlines.

Still, even on a day when the Big Apple feels as warm and welcoming as central Pennsylvania, these runners will have a special group of people on their minds.

“Our hearts are always back with the patients,” says Leckey.