Alumna Fighting for SMA One Step at a Time

Many people run to stay in shape and achieve a personal best time, but Lauren Lundy O’Connor ’02 is running for a cause

Many people run to stay in shape and achieve a personal best time, but Lauren Lundy O’Connor ’02 is running for a cause. Since 2008, O’Connor and her SMA (spinal muscular atrophy) Asics have been hitting the pavement to raise funds to support the research of SMA and to find a cure.

SMA is the No. 1 genetic killer of infants and young children and results in the loss of nerves in the spinal cord and the weakness of the muscles connected with those nerves. When O’Connor’s nephew Owen was diagnosed with SMA in 2008 at just two months and passed away three months later, she was motivated to start running for a cause, and founded Team Run 4 Owen, a website that featured information about SMA, Owen’s story, details on upcoming races, donation opportunities and much more.

In October 2008, O’Connor ran the Dublin marathon and raised $6,000 for SMA, and all of the proceeds were donated to Columbia University’s Spinal Muscular Atrophy Clinical Research Center. Two years later, Michael Van De Loo ’94 connected with O’Connor through her website after he found out his daughter Ciara had SMA.

O’Connor was moved by Van De Loo’s story and that he was a fellow Jasper, and decided to run the New York City Marathon Tune-up 18-mile run last September in honor of Ciara. Two months later, O’Connor prepared for another race for the cause – the New York City marathon and dedicated all of the Brooklyn miles to Ciara. A few days before the marathon, Van De Loo sent a mass e-mail to all of his Manhattan College contacts, and as a result, O’Connor raised an additional $5,000 for SMA research from the Jasper community.

Like Van De Loo, O’Connor has met several families fighting SMA, including the Strong family. Gwendolyn Strong is now three and a half years old and was not expected to live past age two, according to the SMA life expectancy. She is beating the odds, and her parents have formed the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation to document Gwendolyn’s battle and make others aware of SMA, resources available and how people can involved in finding a cure for SMA.

“Gwendolyn’s parents, Bill and Victoria, have become really good friends, and they are dedicated to helping other families that are going through what they are going through,” says O’Connor. “I have raised more than $9,000 for their foundation since May of 2010.”

With the start of the 2011 marathon season, O’Connor and Van De Loo are teaming up to raise even more money for SMA. In late March, Van De Loo and his wife, Kate, ran the New York City half marathon, and O’Connor ran the New Bedford, Mass., half marathon.

In addition, O’Connor will run the Newport, R.I., marathon and the Santa Barbara marathon with Gwendolyn’s father this fall. The fellow Jaspers will also pair up again in November 2011 to run the New York City marathon, which will benefit Team Run 4 Owen for the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation.

“Seeing right now that there are no treatments or cures for this disease, raising money for research is absolutely critical for the children and the families, and the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation also provides information and support for families like myself,” Van De Loo said.

To learn more about SMA, visit http://gwendolynstrongfoundation.org/.

Since this story was written, the College was sad to learn of Ciara’s passing on April 26. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family.

*Article from the spring edition of the Manhattan magazine.