By David Willis
ANDOVER — Ashley McLaughlin knows where will be tears as she crosses the Boston Marathon finish line, and finds the arms of best friend Arianna Miliotis.
There will be tears of joy, for completing one of the greatest challenges in sports. There will be tears of pride for accomplishing a life-long goal.
But there will also be tears of sadness, for the loved on who will be missing from the celebration. Tears for the friend whose courage and spirit remain McLaughlin’s greatest source of strength more than a decade later.
“Alex (Miliotis) is always on my mind,” said McLaughlin. “Alex is still such a strong influence on me. She was so amazing. So tough. She never let anything stop her. It’s important to remember her struggles and keep her spirit alive.”
March 15, 2013, marked 11 years since the passing of 16-year-old Alexandra Miliotis of Andover, who lost her battle with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia following a 10-month battle.
One month from that date, April 15 of this year, McLaughlin will pay tribute to Miliotis by running the Boston Marathon in memory of her friend and for “Alex’s Team,” the charity run by the Miliotis family.
“It’s very moving and inspirational for my whole family that Ashley is doing this for Alex,” said Arianna Miliotis, Alex’s twin sister. “Ashley’s (race) bib will say, ‘In Honor of Alexandra Miliotis.’ That is really special for me.
“I think it will be very emotional and we will express the love we have for each other and the love and memories we have of Alex. When she crosses the finish line I know it will be very emotional.”
For McLaughlin, the Marathon was a perfect way to honor her friend.
After all, it was athletics that brought McLaughlin and the Miliotis twins together, and sports was a passion Alex held dear.
“We were about 6-years-old when we started playing soccer together,” said McLaughlin. “We were on separate teams. Then we started playing basketball together, all the way through freshman basketball. Alex was very athletic. She was always happy and smiling.”
An athlete since childhood, Miliotis played JV soccer and softball, and was the point guard for the freshman basketball team as freshman at Andover High.
“My sister was definitely one of a kind, which is funny to say because we are twins,” said an emotional Arianna. “She had this spark, she had this real spirit about her. She was athletic, she was smart, she was funny. And she had this temper which was kind of funny. It was what really made her an individual.”
She retained that glimmer even after being diagnosed with cancer following a visit to the doctor for a minor softball injury, needing to spend the majority of her final 10 months in the Intensive Care Unit at the Boston Children’s Hospital.
“Alex was just so positive,” said McLaughlin. “She was so tough even facing such a hard fight, just like she was on the court. No matter what, she never let anything in life beat her. She somehow kept smiling. She was just awesome.
“When she got sick, I don’t think I could really comprehend what was happening. To this day, it is still the worst thing any of us have experienced. You feel so helpless. You can be there for moral support, but you can’t fix it. Watching Arianna and her family go through that was horrible.”
Alex tragically lost her battle on March 15, 2002. One year later to the day, Andover girls basketball took home its first state title in program history — on a dramatic buzzer-beater by Samantha Hughes.
“When we won our (Division 1) state (basketball) title (2003) it was on the one-year anniversary of Alexandra’s death,” said Arianna. “That was very powerful. Everyone said we had an angel in the rafters. That’s really how we felt. Alex never got to play high school sports, but it felt like something we did together.
“When Ashley was a captain the next year, she would always link Alex into her inspirational speeches. Over the years we have found time to be emotional and really express that love we have for each other.”
Miliotis’ influence continued to inspire McLaughlin during her record-setting basketball career at Andover, scoring 1,150 career points, and her four-year year as a prominent player for Division 1 Holy Cross. She also maintained a close relationship with Alex’s Team.
“Ashley is so dedicated and has been a big part of Alex’s team,” said Arianna, who now works for the Boston Public Schools. “Ashley has always been so dedicated, and I think her running the Marathon is the quintessential example of her dedication to her goals, her friends and her family.”
For McLaughlin, it was a way to remember Miliotis and fulfill a lifelong dream.
“I felt it would be a great way to keep her memory alive,” said McLaughlin, now a teacher at Waltham High. “I have always wanted to run the Boston Marathon, and to do it for Alex makes it all worthwhile. It’s important to remember her struggles and keep her spirit alive.
“I have played sports all of my life. Since my college career ended, that competitive fire, that working towards a goal has been missing. Running the Marathon has always been something I wanted to do, and I thought that would be a great accomplishment.”
McLaughlin set her sights on training, building to a 20-mile training run in Hopkinton two weeks ago. She will run the race with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
“I’m getting a little bit nervous,” she said. “I think it’s going to be pretty emotional. I think it’s going to go by very fast. To run such a long distance, and have my family, friends and Arianna there at the end will be awesome.”
Arianna, for one, can’t wait to welcome her friend at the finish line.
“It really is so moving that she is going to do this,” said Arianna. “Ashley has been so important to ‘Alex’s Team’ and she is so close to out family. When she crosses the finish line, it’s going to be very emotional and I will be so proud of her.”
IN their words
For video interviews with Ashley McLaughlin and Arianna Miliotis, along with images from Alex Miliotis’ life, visit eagletribune.com
What is Alex’s team?
The “Alex’s Team” foundation began as a concept in 2001 and was founded in 2002. It benefits numerous fields related to childhood Leukemia.
One is the “Alexandra Jane Miliotis Oncology Nursing Support Endowment,” which aids the oncology nursing staff at Children’s Hospital Boston.
“Alex Miliotis taught those of us privileged to care for her about courage, endurance, kindness, humor and love,” says Dorothy Gillmor, RN, in a release for Children’s Hospital Boston. “The Miliotis family has created a legacy that continues to support us in caring for children and their families. As nurses, we have benefited from time spent in retreat and at conferences, and we are honored to be included in the continuing work of ‘Alex’s Team.’”
For more on “Alex’s Team” visit:
Though negative, worrisome thoughts continue
to cross the minds of myself and those around me,
I cannot, will not let these things discourage me.
I keep fighting.
In isolation, but with people and prayer
and support and love and faith enveloping me,
I stand alone, overcome with loneliness
but at the same time smothered with love and support.
I cannot worry. I cannot let this win.
This soon will be over. I will have defeated this
I will live.
I will find the courage and strength to be me again
-Written by Alexandra Miliotis
Jan. 20, 2002