• Nick Malfitano

Chris McDougall: South Philly Native Returns for PHL24


He’s profiled those who were Born To Run through the Copper Canyons of Mexico and others who were Natural Born Heroes in World War II. Now, journalist, author and ultra-marathon runner Christopher McDougall will lend his unique talents to the Fishtown Beer Runners team Legacy of Hope’s PHL24 2019, presented by the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center – Jefferson Health.


Gearing up for its second year, PHL24 is a 24-hour stair climbing marathon to be held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s famous steps, beginning on September 20. The $100,000 fundraising goal will go directly back to the Philadelphia cancer community to support patients and researchers. McDougall said he chose to participate in the event after learning about it from friend and FBR founder, David April.


“He and I have become pretty good friends over the years. In fact, it was really weird: I was actually in Philly for an event [in 2015] and stopped by his house the day he got his initial [cancer] diagnosis,” McDougall said. “I was in Philly for an event with my second book Natural Born Heroes, and a group of us were going to run from Rittenhouse Square out to Fishtown, meet up with David and the Beer Runners and then run back [downtown].”

When McDougall arrived at April’s home, FBR’s founder hadn’t yet walked outside to help lead the run. April invited him inside and, according to McDougall, it was then that he learned from FBR’s founder about his fateful turn of medical events.


The friendship forged by the two men in the ensuing years led McDougall to accept the invite for PHL24 and join the FBR team.


“I’ve become so impressed by David and what’s he done with the Beer Runners over the years that they’re the only stamp of validity that I need. If David says he’s in, I’m in. His reputation is so solid that if he believes in something, I’ll take his word for it,” McDougall said.


It remains to be seen whether he will complete the entire 24-hour stair marathon, but aside from his Beer Runners teammates, McDougall also may not be coming in alone.

“I’m kind of feeling it out. My Amish running buddies out here [in Lancaster County] are interested and I got another couple of friends who are stair runners in New York that are interested, and I’ve been basically testing the waters to see what people will all sign up for,” McDougall stated.


“At the very least, I’ll join the Beer Runners team and go through the cycle around the clock with them. I know a couple of runners that are capable of doing a solo 24 hours, so I’m kind of hoping I can B.S. them into signing on for that, and I can just be their support crew. I know two runners that could totally do 24 hours, but I haven’t quite persuaded them to sign on yet.”


McDougall added that one of them is a well-known female endurance athlete and upon inquiring if she was capable of completing 24 consecutive hours of steps, she casually replied, “Yes!”


When asked if he had a goal for taking on PHL24, McDougall responded that he tore his hamstring the last time he ran steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and presently, he joked that his goal was to fight through the memory of that injury and get up and down the steps without embarrassing himself.


“Beyond that, it’s all gravy. We’ll see how things shape up. My dream scenario is that I persuade a couple of these ultra-marathon friends to come out and do a solo day and I can be out there to cheer them on, meet a bunch of people, just raise the energy and raise the awareness,” McDougall said.


Along with PHL24, McDougall discussed his familiarity with Legacy of Hope’s two-fold mission of supporting cancer patients in their fight and the ongoing task of cancer research – and it being a cause that unifies.


“Especially at times like this where’s there so much fighting and bickering about a lot of things, it’s just nice that there’s one thing where there’s nothing to bicker about. If you want to help someone who’s struggling to fight for their life, that’s something everybody can get on board with,” McDougall said.


McDougall remarked the fight is one of the few times in one’s life where there’s “no saving pennies” and one has to “put all their chips on the table.”


“Everybody knows that the number-one cause of bankruptcy in America is healthcare. If you’re diagnosed with something that’s potentially lethal, then you’re going to spend everything you’ve got and everything your family’s got. Beyond even the medical risk, it’s a horrifying financial risk,” McDougall stated.


Furthermore, McDougall also detailed his own personal connections to that same fight.

“A very close, dear cousin was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer, which had already reached into her body. She was given a miniscule percentage chance of living and unbelievably, successfully fought it and survived. Another close friend was dying of breast cancer and luckily, fought it and survived,” McDougall said.


“I always feel like you’re rare if you don’t know somebody personally who’s been battling with cancer. I feel like it’s all around us. And if you don’t know somebody, you probably will pretty soon.”


As for PHL24, McDougall is excited to return to his native Philadelphia for it. “I’ve never been to an event in Philly that hasn’t been a blast, you know? I was born and raised there, lived almost all of my life there. I still have a few connections in South Philly, where I was born. It’s always good to go home and tap back into the home blood,” McDougall commented.


“I’m just looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a cool, fun, exciting party and I just anticipate a lot of fun.”


If you’re looking to participate in PHL24 and run the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art alongside McDougall, Bart Yasso, cancer survivors, cancer fighters, family members, friends and supporters, sign up here.

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