This Sunday, over 22,000 runners will cross the start line of the 38th annual Los Angeles Marathon, attempting to finish the 26.2 mile race in the best time they possibly can. One of those athletes is a remarkable woman by the name of Julie Weiss. And incredibly, this will be her 116th marathon.
Julie, a 52-year-old real estate accountant from Santa Monica first took to running 15 years ago as a way to improve both her physical and mental health. At that time, she was a single mother, regularly taking antidepressants. However, what started out as a healthy hobby turned into a life-transforming journey as she was able to discover her true calling.
“I don’t have any shame in admitting that I needed antidepressants, they quite possibly saved my life because at the time I was very depressed. But I had to find another way and when I started running, I found I didn’t need them. Running lifted me and I just kept going.
“I lost 35 pounds and my whole life turned around and then it turned into this journey of love,” Julie says.
In addition to the obvious, immediate rewards, the transformation in her life had many additional benefits, including a much improved relationship with her father, Maurice.
“We didn’t have a particularly strong relationship when I was growing up, but when I started running, I felt the love from him that I hadn’t gotten before. He became my biggest fan whereas before he was my biggest critic,” Julie says.
Tragically, Maurice was only able to witness the first two years of Julie’s new, rapidly developing running career as he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died in 2010. He was 75. At the time Julie was attempting to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Unlike many other major marathons, including Tokyo, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City, runners must complete a prior, certified 26.2 mile race within a specific time based on your age in order to compete.
But qualify she did. And once Julie had completed the Boston race, it became clear that her mission in life was only just beginning.
“Once I ran the Boston Marathon, I realized I need to do more to raise awareness, I need to do more to honor him, his memory and also for so many others that are affected by this disease,” Julie says.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates over 64,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year and more than 50,000 will lose their lives. A recent ACS report concludes that the overall risk of cancer is declining, but it remains the second leading cause of death for Americans, behind heart disease. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth deadliest cancer in both men and women. The five-year relative survival rate is now 12 percent, an increase of 1 percent since last year.
At this point Julie took on a seemingly impossible challenge. When she crossed the finish line of the Los Angeles Marathon in 2013, she accomplished an astonishing feat, having raced in and completed 52 marathons in 52 weeks in an effort to raise money for pancreatic cancer research. All while still holding down a full-time job.
That was 10 years and well over 3,000 miles ago and to commemorate that — and to celebrate the fact that she’s now raised over $1million — she will be running once again in Sunday’s Los Angeles Marathon. Pancreatic cancer survivors and supporters will gather to greet Julie both as she crosses the finish line and at the Hirshberg Foundation’s Purple People Party Cheer Station near Mile 21.
Julie got engaged to her coach, David Levine, in 2012 and in May of 2013, she was named Woman of the Year for the 28th Senate District.
Julie is now a grandmother and while she might not be running quite as much, her love for the sport remains solid. “I am not running a marathon a week, that’s for sure,” she laughs. “But this past year, I set out to do 12 races in 12 months, but because I’m human, I ended up getting injured. So I ended up running just five and the rest were like half marathons and five and 10 kilometers.
“But I kept going, I just changed it up a little bit and race number 12 will be this Sunday,” and despite this interview taking place over the phone, it was still possible to hear her smiling.
Julie continues to raise money for pancreatic cancer research and each year, she trains and fundraises with the Hirshberg Training Team, a running program to train runners and walkers for the Los Angeles Marathon.