2-time Lower Burrell cancer survivor training for 2nd Boston Marathon
Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series that features Alle-Kiski Valley residents and the notable things they do.
In 2004, Jill Conroy was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
She beat it, and started to run.
She’s never stopped.
“It was after that that I decided to start running,” said Conroy, 60, of Lower Burrell. “My goal was to go to Boston.”
Conroy hit that goal in 2010.
Next April, she plans to run in her second Boston Marathon.
She qualified for the race at last year’s VCU Health Richmond Marathon in Richmond, Va., finishing in 4 hours and 12 minutes. The qualifying time for the Boston Marathon for women in Conroy’s age bracket is 4 hours and 20 minutes.
“(I finished) faster than I needed. I was really pleased with that,” Conroy said.
Conroy began running in 2007 as a way to lose weight and appreciate what she calls her “second chance” at life.
She has since run in at least 30 marathons and 100 half marathons in roughly 15 states.
“I wanted to get healthy. I didn’t want to wallow. (I’m a) cancer survivor,” she said.
Conroy was 50 when she ran her first Boston Marathon. She doesn’t remember her finishing time. She said it’s more of an experience than an actual race.
“Once you make it to Boston, you just want to savor it. You just want to be there and have fun,” she said. “You wanted to smack all the hands that were waving. There’s an all-girl’s college that stands out there and says ‘Give me a hug.’ My mom met me on Heartbreak Hill.
“You don’t have time goals when you go. I’m not going to be a winner, that’s for sure.
”It’s a winner being there.”
Conroy teaches group cycling and Silver Sneakers classes at the Valley Points Family YMCA in New Kensington. Silver Sneakers is a free fitness program for seniors.
She thinks of her senior students and two grandchildren when she runs.
Despite having trouble walking or using their hands, her senior students still go to the YMCA to exercise.
Her granddaughter, Ella, is paralyzed from the waist down. Her grandson, Julian, is autistic.
“When I’m struggling in the middle of a race, I think about all of them, and Ella and Julian, and I figure I can get through. If they get through their daily struggles I can get through,” she said.
Conroy doesn’t just run. She walks, too.
In 2017, she broke her shoulder while running. She wasn’t allowed to run as she healed but wanted to keep active.
So she decided to walk from Lower Burrell to Erie.
It took her five days. It was about 150 miles.
“I needed to keep doing something,” she said. “I just decided Erie was attainable.”
During the trek, Conroy noticed a mark on her right leg that turned out to be melanoma, a type of skin cancer.
She had the melanoma removed and made changes to her running schedule and diet to make sure it doesn’t come back.
“I figured it would be OK, but how was it going to change my life?” she said. “I’ve learned to go out earlier in the day. The only time I’m out in full sun is when I’m participating in a race. I use sunscreen and try to use protective clothing.”
Conroy is on the Paleo diet. She said it has offset the effects of her fibromyalgia, which she has had for an number of years. Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes widespread muscle pain and tenderness.
“I still ran and I competed, but it really hurt everywhere. I had all over body pain,” she said.
After six weeks on the Paleo diet, all of the pain in her body was gone.
In 10 weeks, she was feeling good enough to run a couple of half marathons.
“I decided, ‘You know, I’m feeling so good maybe I could run a marathon again,’ ” she said. “I was thinking, ‘Well, wouldn’t it be cool to qualify for Boston again at age 60?’ ”
Conroy ran in honor of Boston Children’s Hospital in 2010. She’ll run in honor of them again next year.
“I chose the same [hospital] again because I know they help a lot of children,” she said.