By Jill Harmacinski
---- — Just before 5 a.m. on St. Patrick’s Day, John Brien tied up his Brooks running shoes and headed out for a 20-mile run.
Brien, 61, a criminal defense lawyer in Lawrence, ran from Cedardale Health & Fitness center in Bradford through West Boxford and Groveland before returning to the gym.
The Salem, N.H., grandfather, who is training for the April 15 Boston Marathon, is also helping cancer research with each step.
A North Andover native, Brien is a member of the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge Team. His patient-partner is Caroline Hamilton of Methuen, a sixth-grader at St. Michael School in North Andover, who has battled brain cancer for the past six years.
Cancer has deeply affected Brien’s life. Both his father and sister died from glioblastomas, brain cancers. Both were afflicted with the same type of tumor.
His dad, Al Brien, who died 25 years ago, was the owner of Al Brien’s Furniture on Oxford Street in Lawrence. His sister Rosemary “Rosie” Brien Brodette died 10 years ago. She was a nurse, lawyer, owner of Attic Treasures in Lawrence, the wife of state trooper Barry Brodette and mother of two daughters, Jennifer and Heidi.
After his sister’s death, Brien and family members walked in the Jimmy Fund Walk as “Rosie’s Team.” But this year, Brien, who was a cross-country runner at Central Catholic High School in Lawrence, decided he wanted to take his fund-raising efforts even further with Caroline Hamilton as his patient-partner.
His training has included short runs, long runs, cross-training and spinning classes. The running and training has already brought Brien, a father of three and grandfather of five, some personal successes. He’s lost 30 pounds and he is also off blood pressure, cholesterol reduction and Type II diabetes medications.
As he trained, local attorney Joanna Rodriguez and Mary Meng-Lee, a physical therapy professor at North Shore Community College, have been his staunch mentors. Both are members of the Merrimack Valley Striders running group.
“They’ve both been so good to me. We talked about when you should run, how you should run,” he said, adding the trio regularly runs together early mornings in Andover.
Training for a marathon requires balance, dedication, perseverance and patience, he said. “It’s so much more complicated than I’m going to put my sneakers on and run,” Brien said.
His previous injuries included a torn meniscus and plantar fasciitis. But this training has been smooth.
“I haven’t had one blister,” Brien said.
All funds raised by Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team members go the Claudia Adams Barr Program in Innovative Basic Cancer Research, which is dedicated to achieving better cancer cure rates and enhancing patients’ quality of life.
Brien, who hopes to raise $10,000, can’t express how important he thinks supporting Dana-Farber is.
“Everyone needs them sooner or later. Everyone knows someone who suffers from cancer,” he said.
On April 15, Brien said he “just wants to make it over that finish line.” But for him, the ultimate win would be “a world without cancer,” he said.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.
How to help
You can help John Brien’s efforts by donating online at www.rundfmc.org. Click on “Support a runner” and then enter John Brien’s name.
Checks made out to Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge can also be mailed to Attorney John Brien, 10 Pemberton Way, 4th floor, Lawrence, Mass. 01840.
For more information about Dana-Farber running programs, call 1-800-551-7036.