Marathoner Chekijian Runs for Dana-Farber

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Gabriel Aljalian Inspires Community

From left, Gabriel Aljalian, Sarkis Chekijian, with daughters Nayiri and Lara at Jimmy Fund Poster Party

By Gabriella Gage

Mirror-Spectator Staff

WATERTOWN — Five years ago, the idea of running a marathon would have seemed a daunting, if not nearly impossible, challenge to Sarkis Chekijian of Belmont. Though an active and athletic individual, he had never particularly enjoyed long-distance running, but he was determined to undertake a new challenge.

Through conversations with friends and colleagues, Chekijian, an account executive in medical sales at Abbott Diagnostics, decided not only to take up running, but to tackle the Boston Marathon in 2010. He found his motivation for his months of training and the long trek itself by running and raising money for a cause — the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s research.

Chekijian, 39, currently training for the 2013 race, previously raised funds for Dana-Farber in 2010 and 2012 as part of the Marathon Challenge. Among the long list of charities to select from, he chose Dana-Farber because at a young age, he had lost both of his grandfathers. “I never had the chance to really get to know them so I felt this connection to Dana-Farber.”

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Chekijian credits Dana-Farber’s well-organized partnership program for approaching him with the idea of taking a “patient partner” this year.

As an active member of the local Armenian community, Chekijian knew of Gabriel Aljalian, the son of St. James Armenian Apostolic Church pastor Rev. Arakel Aljalian and his wife Natasha. Gabriel, at the age of 4, is battling leukemia. Without hesitation, Chekijian chose Aljalian as his patient partner for 2013.

Through the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge Partner Program, Chekijian has had the opportunity to spend more time with Gabriel through events such as a recent Jimmy Fund poster-making party — an opportunity he says he is grateful for. “The simple act of running and that it can raise money for cancer research, and just being able to spend time with Gabriel has had a positive impact on me,” said Chekijian.

Gabriel Aljalian

From his perspective as a runner, Chekijian said running in honor of Gabriel Aljalian has even helped him train for the arduous 26-mile run. “The motivation I get from him helps me. When I feel like giving up and I’m tired and in pain, I think about this little boy and his strength, suffering and what he is going through. He gives me the strength to keep going, to keep running,” said Chekijian.

At a March 23 fundraiser held at St. James Church, the community helped raise more than $7,000 towards Chekijian’s running challenge. In total, Chekijian has raised more than $18,000 this Challenge year, 100 percent of which will go directly to the Dana-Farber Claudia Adams Barr Program in Innovative Basic Cancer Research.

Chekijian hopes to reach his goal of $20,000 during these final few days before the marathon on Monday, April 15.

Over the past three years, Chekijian has raised close to $50,000 in total for cancer research through the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge.

Local members of the community have described Chekijian as a role model and an inspiration. Chekijian humbly responded to such praise, “It was a ‘no-brainer’ to want to help raise money for Dana-Farber. I never expected that it would have such an effect on those around me. It’s been great.”

Chekjian added that the community aspect and example he is providing his children have been two unexpected, rewarding by-products of the Marathon Challenge. “My parents raised me in this community and being a part of the Armenian community and helping where I can is very important to me.”

Sarkis Chekijian at the 2010 Boston Marathon

While the Marathon Challenge Partner Program officially ends on Monday, Chekijian said the bond between him and his running inspiration, Gabriel Aljalian, is here to stay. “I have bonded with Gabriel and enjoy spending time with him. I plan on continuing to visit him. It doesn’t end here,” said Chekijian.

To donate to Chekijian’s run and provide aid for innovative cancer research, visit his fundraising page at www.sarkisruns.com, or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SarkisRuns.

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