With Cassandra Leal coming from a military family, it’s appropriate that she is running the Boston Marathon for the first time as a fundraiser for the Hopkinton Veterans Celebration Committee.
The HVCC was established to remember and honor veterans. Committee members are appointed by the Select Board.
“[It’s] affiliated with the actual Town of Hopkinton, so it’s a subcommittee that handles the parades and other community events to drive and support community awareness around veterans,” Leal explained.
The HVCC organizes the annual Memorial Day ceremonies and activities, plans the Veterans Day appreciation dinner, and assists with the monthly Old Guard New England taps vigil. The organization, chaired by Mike Whalen, partners with runners to raise money for these experiences and gets its Boston Marathon bibs through the town (which receives a set number from the Boston Athletic Association).
Leal is a 36-year-old mother of two who works full-time as connections director at The Life Church in Leominster. A graduate of Worcester State College with a B.S. in business administration, she previously worked nine years at global healthcare company Sanofi.
Supporting and honoring veterans in the community is important to Leal, who speaks proudly of her family’s strong history of service.
“My family is a military family. … My dad was in the Air Force, my husband is a veteran of the Marine Corps, both my grandfathers served, so there’s a lot of history for me tied to veterans,” she said.
“Specifically, this opportunity came up through a running community I had through my previous employer. We had a running team through Sanofi — we would partner with Patient Partners through the National Organization for Rare Disorders. So, they would match a runner with a patient, and then we would find specific events to raise funds and awareness for that disease,” Leal explained.
“It was a really cool opportunity, because being part of that, I met a whole bunch of runners … and at that time, I was literally, I think, running only 5Ks, and then I ended up running half marathons!”
It was through that community she learned “there were a couple [of charity] bibs floating around — and I’ve had the Boston Marathon on my bucket list, probably since I started running in 2013.
“I actually had a love-hate running relationship, so it was interesting,” she confessed. “I dragged my feet, to be honest. … I waited, because they go really fast — you know, we live in Boston, so everyone wants to run it, so I was like, ‘I’m just going to wait,’ and I prayed on it, and about two weeks later, it was still available, so I reached out and kind of was like, ‘If it’s still available, then it’s my time.’ And Mike responded really quickly, ‘It’s yours!’ … So, that was the sign!”
Her fundraising page can be found at gofund.me/2ee6a0b3.
Despite her 10 years of running experience, Leal insisted, “I don’t love running, and I don’t run often!” She does, however, love running for causes, and started doing the annual Race to Educate 5K when her children began attending Saint Columbkille Partnership School. She usually does a half-marathon once a year, and also participated in a cornhole fundraising event hosted by the Natick Elks to benefit HVCC.
For training, “My dog is my running partner — I have a chocolate Lab who’s 2 years old and has a bunch of energy, so she and I will go out for 3- to 5-mile runs,” she said, adding that she recently joined a gym to better prepare for the challenge of her first marathon.
Leal’s military connections and sense of dedication are evidenced by her mentality. Although she’s unsure if she has the requisite endurance, “I’m counting on my determination to get me through it!” she said.