Aruilio Psars for Web.jpg

Left, Lea Aruilio with parents Cindy and Eric Swanson after the 2014 Newport Marathon. Right, Kit Psaras and her husband, Jim. South Kingstown natives Aruilio and Psaras are running the Boston Marathon.

The Boston Marathon returns on Monday, and two South County natives will be running it for a cause that’s close to their hearts.

Lea Aruilio and Kit Psaras are part of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s team for the race and have each raised more than $10,000. The funds will go to a place they know well; Aruilio’s mother was treated at Dana-Farber before her death in 2018, while Psaras’ husband is currently being treated there for non-small cell lung cancer.

“When I started thinking about this opportunity, to run for Dana-Farber, where my mom was treated, it felt right,” Aruilio said. “If you asked my mom, ‘What would you want me to do to honor your life?’ she wasn’t an athlete, wasn’t a runner, I don’t think she would have said running. But for me, it’s what I know and what I feel comfortable doing. It’s really a special opportunity to raise money for people who are going through what I’ve gone through.”

Both Aruilio and Psaras grew up in South Kingstown. Aruilio graduated from South Kingstown High Schol in 2008 and Psaras in 2003. They became friends while working at the former Turtle Soup restaurant in Narragansett. Aruilio now lives in Ridgefield, Connecticut, and Psaras is a resident of Middletown, Rhode Island.

Both had toyed with the idea of running the Boston Marathon under the fundraising umbrella, which allows entry without the race’s usual qualifying time requirement. The marathon has 41 official charity teams. In the last in-person race, in 2019, runners participating on behalf of non-profit organizations raised $38.4 million.

Psaras decided to apply to the Dana-Farber team in the spring, with the postponed marathon slated to finally come back in the fall.

“This is the second time I’ve applied,” Psaras said. “The first time I applied, I was too late and it ended up getting canceled due to COVID anyway This time, I applied at the end of April. I remember it clearly, sitting outside at my sister’s house in Maryland. I was doing it on my phone and said, ‘I just applied to Boston.’”

When Aruilio saw a a social media post from Psaras about it, she had the nudge she needed to give it a try, too.

“When the opportunity to run it in October came up, I was very interested,” Aruilio said. “I was teetering back and forth on running with the Dana Farber team and thinking about applying. There are some pretty steep fundraising commitments. I was really back and forth. And then Kit posted something about running it with Dana-Farber, and I was like, ‘Ok, I’m going to do it, too.’”

What followed was a quest on two fronts – the fundraising and the actual training. Committing to the Dana-Farber team means raising a minimum of $7,500. The 26.2 miles are unfamiliar territory, too. Aruilio ran the Newport Marathon, the only one she’s done, several years ago. Psaras has done a number of half-marathons and regularly runs the Blessing of the Fleet Road Race in Narragansett but has never done a full marathon.

Both were challenges, but it helped to be in it together.

“We had so many conversations, just being like, ‘Oh no, I’m not going to hit it,’” Aruilio said. “But we both way exceeded it.”

As of Tuesday, Psaras had raised more than $13,000, with Aruilio just shy of $11,000.

“It’s hard to ask people for money even with a meaningful cause, especially with the world going through a pandemic,” Aruilio said. “Making that ask has been difficult, but remembering at the end of the day, the cause is much greater – that really helps.”

Aruilio’s mother, Cindy Swanson, was diagnosed with breast cancer when her daughter was just 2 years old. She beat it and was cancer-free for 25 years before a surprising recurrence led to her death at the age of 65.

“She was a huge supporter of Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund. She had breast cancer when I was an infant and then it recurred much later in my life,” Aruilio said. “That whole timeframe, she was supporting and giving back to the treatment center that would ultimately give her her final care. It’s really special to be able to give back to the best doctors in the world who are treating our loved ones.”

Psaras is living in that world now. Her husband, Jim, the former Rogers High School basketball coach, was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer in 2018. A drug trial at Dana-Farber kept the cancer at bay for two-and-a-half years before recent regrowth, which has led to chemotherapy treatments. On Tuesday – less than a week before the marathon – Jim and Kit were at Dana-Farber for an infusion.

“You spend time there and when you’re in it, you love the place and you hate the place all at the same time,” Psaras said. “But it’s unbelievable how much good they do. It’s very meaningful and thank god for them in so many ways.”

The cause has provided meaning and motivation for months of training in the spring and summer. Psaras has family roots in marathons and is excited to join the club.

“My parents were marathon runners so it’s always been in the family. I remember being little sitting on the sidewalk in Narragansett with babysitters, watching my parents run the Blessing of the Fleet,” Psaras said. “I would have preferred to be drinking wine on Friday nights in August instead of drinking water and going to bed at 9 to be up by 5 for a long Saturday run. But it all went well.”

“I played soccer through college, and I guess running has always been part of my life in some capacity,” Aruilio said. “I ran the Newport Marathon a few years ago and have run a couple of half-marathons, but have never run anything as grueling as Boston. So this will be a really big feat and a big challenge.”

Aruilio and Psaras will ride the bus to the starting line together but won’t stay close on the course.

“Kit is the fastest human I know,” Aruilio said with a laugh. “She’s way faster than me. I’m super in awe of her. We’ll be bus buddies and then go our separate ways.”

Both are looking forward to the festive atmosphere of the marathon’s comeback. It was postponed in the spring of 2020 to the fall, then canceled altogether. The 2021 version was set for its usual April date before it was pushed back again.

“I feel like such a part of the city has been missing,” Psaras said.

It’s back, and Aruilio and Psaras can’t wait to be a part of it.

“It’s been a really fun journey,” Aruilio said. “A lot of hard work. The fundraising is a big commitment on top of the physical training as well – a lot of time and a lot of miles run. But it’s all for a really good cause. I’m excited it’s finally here.”

Donations can be made online for Aruilio at danafarber.jimmyfund.org/goto/leaaruilio and Psaras at danafarber.jimmyfund.org/goto/KittyRuns.

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