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Like mother, like daughter

Pair to run for love and money for MS

By Jackie Cowin, Globe Staff Correspondent, 4/12/2001

Sherrie Kaplan and her daughter Wendi Morner prepare for the Boston Marathon. (Globe Staff Photo / Joanne Rathe)

fter years of resisting her mother's advice, Wendi Morner decided to follow her own.

As a team manager for the Leukemia Society's ''Team in Training,'' which trains people for athletic events so they can raise money to fight cancer, Morner often coaxed skeptics into agreeing to run marathons by promising that the program could turn even the most unathletic person into a long-distance runner.

But Morner never thought the promise applied to her. A former Newton resident who moved to New York after graduate school, she loathed running, even though her mother is an avid marathoner who frequently tried to cajole her daughter into running with her.

''People would tell me, `I don't even run for a bus; how are you going to convince me to run a marathon?' I would tell them, `You're here now at the recruitment meeting so obviously you have the desire and that's really all you need,'' said Morner. ''But I never told myself that.''

Never, until she accompanied her first group of recruits to the Dublin Marathon in October, 1998, and saw how far people can push themselves for a cause they believe in. Inspired by the tremendous accomplishments of her recruits, Morner joined Team in Training herself and the next year ran the New York City Marathon with her mother, Sherrie Kaplan of Newton.

On Monday, mother and daughter will race together for the third time when they compete in the 105th Boston Marathon.

''I saw people in Dublin who had thought it was impossible they would ever run a marathon cross the finish line, because they were motivated by their desire to do something good,'' said Morner, 31, ''and I thought, `This is something I can do.'''

Morner's epiphany thrilled her mother, a social psychologist at Tufts University School of Medicine who lives at the base of Heartbreak Hill.

A marathoner since 1979, Kaplan can finish the 26.2-mile trek in under 31/2 hours, but doesn't mind slowing down so she can cross the finish line with her daughter.

''It is one of the most moving things,'' said Kaplan, 52. ''It is really extraordinary to be able to do something that is so tough with your child. It's very unusual for parents to get that kind of experience.''

Next week's race will be especially meaningful for Kaplan and Morner, as they are running to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society in honor of Susan Goold, a colleague of Kaplan's who was diagnosed with MS a year ago.

A mother of two who lives in Ann Arbor, Mich., Goold has experienced more than a half-dozen disease-related episodes over the past year and is plagued by chronic fatigue. Yet the episodes have not caused any permanent damage and Goold remains active at work and in family life.

An apprentice of Kaplan's in a career-development program for primary-care physicians, Goold was taken aback when Kaplan asked permission to run the Marathon in her name last December.

''I've known Sherrie for a number of years in a professional capacity and she's my mentor, but it's not like we're close friends,'' said Goold. ''The idea that somebody who knows me collegially would run a marathon in my name, I just found incredibly moving.''

Kaplan and Morner are raising money for a program called Marathon Strides against MS, one of 15 charities given a combined 1,000 entry numbers by the Boston Athletic Association to use for fund-raising purposes. Last year, Boston Marathon runners raised $3 million for charity.

''Susan was just kind of the last in a string of people I know who are struggling with disease, and the way she was managing it made me so embarrassed that I was whining about the regular hoo-ha that goes on in everyone's life, that I decided it's time to step forward and do something in her behalf,'' said Kaplan.

Kaplan began long-distance running as a way to blow off steam while she was pursuing her doctorate in Santa Monica, Calif. She has run 13 marathons, including one in Israel where she set a personal-best of 3 hours, 28 minutes. She has run Boston once unofficially.

In addition to New York, she also ran the Chicago Marathon with Morner, who visits home about once every six weeks in preparation for the April 16 race. The pair will be cheered on by Kaplan's husband, Sheldon Greenfield, and teenage son, Rob Greenfield.

Kaplan and Morner plan to spend the 26.2-mile run as they usually do: chatting, laughing at spectators' signs, and surprising people with the news that they are mother and daughter.

''How often can you say your 52-year-old mother has to slow down for you?'' said Morner, now a fund-raiser for Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. ''But she's so thrilled that it's something we can do together. It conjoins what we like to do, running and doing something for a charity.''

Contributions to the Multiple Sclerosis Society may be made by calling Iris Shore at 1-800-493-9255, ext. 138.

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