Dana Sellitto suffered from endometriosis symptoms for two decades before finally being diagnosed in June. She had surgery in July, and just 14 weeks later, on Nov. 5, she ran the New York City Marathon, her first full marathon. It took her more than six hours to complete, but her time was irrelevant. She achieved her goal of finishing the race.
“If you told me a few months ago that I’d run a marathon, I would have laughed at you, but I had to change the narrative. I wanted to make my son proud, my team proud, and myself proud,” Sellitto said. “To turn something so horrible into something so great—I will never become my endometriosis.”
Sellitto was one of 54 runners on EndoFound’s Team EndoStrong, the ninth year the foundation has participated as a charity partner with the marathon. With three runners injured, 51 stepped to the starting line on Staten Island, and all 51 crossed the finish line in Central Park in Manhattan. The team set a goal of raising $200,000 for the foundation. They stand at $208,000 today, with donations accepted through the end of the year.
“To have 54 people come together for one cause and sacrifice their personal time and responsibilities to raise awareness and money for endometriosis is remarkable,” said Clare Murphy.
Murphy, a medical assistant and researcher for the Seckin Endometriosis Center, organized the team.
“And we didn’t do it alone,” Murphy continued. “Every step we took of the 26.2 miles was euphoric and motivating because so many people were there cheering us on and supporting us. And none of this would have been possible without the generous donations we received. The biggest thank you goes to the donors who believed in us and helped us reach our goal.”
Murphy also ran the marathon, and she did it in three hours and five minutes. That was fifth-best in her age group, among the top 150 women runners, and good enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon in April. However, her personal accomplishments were a distant second to her leadership role on the team.
Murphy recruited the runners, set up team bonding events on Friday and Saturday of race weekend, and started a chat group several months ago so participants could support each other with training and fundraising ideas. Carolyn Mayer, EndoFound’s senior program manager, took the reins on race day to make sure everything ran smoothly so Murphy could focus on running.
“I’m just so beholden to the team—the runners and everyone behind the scenes—who made this happen,” Murphy said. “Coming around that corner on First Avenue—the long street in Manhattan that all the runners run through—and seeing our big, bright, purple tent with so many people there cheering for us was a clear sign of who we were and that we were raising awareness.”
Another Team EndoStrong runner, Sarah Gates from Decatur, Illinois, began feeling endometriosis symptoms as a teenager 20 years ago. She’s had four surgeries, the most recent in 2021, and hadn’t run a full marathon since 2014 in Indianapolis. Her first goal was to finish the race. Her second was to finish in under five hours and 30 minutes. She did it with 11 minutes to spare.
“It was an amazing experience. Just really amazing,” said Gates.
She said the course was challenging, especially around mile 15 at the Queensboro Bridge. That’s when her hip and glute muscles began to tighten, something she said she struggles with because of her endometriosis.
“But that’s also what kept me pushing myself,” Gates said. “It reminded me what it took to reach that point and why I was running. And when I saw the cheering section for the foundation, I was able to run over to them and feed off their energy to keep going.”
Sellitto mentioned that one reason she ran was to make her son proud. He’s eight years old and watched the race on television from their home in New Jersey. When Sellitto finished, the first thing she did was call him.
“I told him Mommy did it, all 26.2 miles,” she said. “And when I got home, I saw him proudly put my medal around his neck. I thought, There it is. That’s why I did this.”
The runners will continue to accept donations through Dec. 31. To donate to a runner and read about each of their stories, visit https://give.endofound.org/event/2023-tcs-nyc-marathon/e477280/search?type=individual.