Cristin and Caitlin Shanahan are seeking at least 84 new donors — one for each kilometre they will run on Sunday — as a tribute.
For Cristin and Caitlin Shanahan, it’s all about the cause that was closest to their mother’s giving heart.
While there are hundreds of reasons why thousands of runners are taking to the streets Saturday and Sunday for Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend, the “Shanny Sisters” are choosing to honour their mother’s memory Sunday by going the full 42.2-kilometre marathon distance to raise awareness for organ donations.
After Alison Shanahan passed away in August 2020 due to a brain tumour, her lungs, liver and kidney were passed on to others in desperate need of life-saving donations.
Now the daughters are seeking at least 84 new donors — one for each kilometre they will run on Sunday — as a tribute.
They are forever grateful for the compassion displayed throughout by Ontario’s Trillium Gift of Life Network, which co-ordinated their mother’s donations.
The Shanahan sisters recognize that their story is somewhat unique amid all the others during the weekend’s two-, five- and 10-kilometre and marathon events in the sense that they aren’t fundraising. They are hoping it helps inspire action.
“The general idea came from our wanting to continue our mom’s legacy a little bit,” said Cristin, 28. “She had always said that this was something she wanted to do, and, as we went through that process, we knew we were going to be able to live out her wishes. This was such a positive experience for something that was so bad, so we were thinking, ‘How do we sort of carry this on?’”
According to the Ottawa Gift of Life Network, there are almost 1,300 Ontario residents on a waiting list for life-saving transplants, including 878 for kidneys, 226 for livers, 75 for lungs, 42 for hearts and 31 for kidneys or pancreas.
Only 30 per cent of Ontarians, however, are registered donors.
There’s an educational element involved in pushing for more Ontario residents to sign up. One common misconception is that registration is on the back of each driver’s licence.
“It’s on the health card,” Cristin said. “Check the back, see if it’s up to date and if everything is the way you want it to be. Have conversations with loved ones. Even if it is in your will, family has a final say.”
The story of the Shanahans’ organ drive is told at beadonor.ca/campaign/shanny-sisters.
The support system around them is strong. Cristin, a behaviour analyst, and Caitlin, 26, who is wrapping up her master’s degree in social work at Carleton University, live at home with their father, Patrick.
He will proudly be on the course Sunday, part of a “pit crew” that also includes aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.
“I think it has been good for our family members, even for our wider circle, to have something to support us,” Caitlin said. “Especially with everything happening during COVID-19 (in 2020), people were not able to support us, so I think it’s a good way for people to say we can also do this in memory of Mom, as well.”
Cristin believes the run will help some friends and family deal with the loss of their mother.
“People don’t know how to grieve, they don’t know to comfort people, they don’t know how to approach people when something is hard,” she said. “There are no words.”
The Shanahan sisters have a sports background — both grew up in the Kanata Girls Hockey Association and played for the Ottawa Lady Senators, and Caitlin served as captain at Princeton University — which has served them well in training for their first marathon.
They began their workouts in early February, when, according to Caitlin, “our eyelashes had frost on them,” and gradually built up endurance with the help of a running app.
Due to their different work and school timetables, they haven’t often run together, but in the past few weeks they’ve tailored their workouts and schedules to be in sync with one another, waking up early to be ready for Sunday’s 7 a.m. start to the marathon.
“A marathon is pretty daunting,” Caitlin said. “Even though we are pretty sports-minded, to take on 42.2 kilometres seems like a lot. So we set smaller goals, starting at five kilometres and then 10 kilometres, doing one thing at a time. When you frame it around organ donation, it made things shorter.”
The two say Alison Shanahan was always their biggest cheerleader, a passionate hockey mom who carried her East Coast charm and charitable spirit everywhere she went. They also know she will be with them in spirit on Sunday.
“She would be jazzed, super proud,” Cristin said. “Proud of everything in general.”
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