Ashley Pildis and Ashley Landay are using their unique friendship to raise money for cancer research.
If you ask a runner why she runs, you'll rarely get the same answer. Whether it's the supportive community or the simple joy of lacing up and getting out, we all have our reasons. But for New York natives, Ashley Pildis and Ashley Landay, running means a lot more than that. (Related: Running Helped Me Accept That I Had Breast Cancer)
Pildis, a nurse at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), first met Landay when she came in for treatment for stage IV breast cancer. It didn't take long before they realized that they had a lot more in common than their first names.
Photo: Ashley Landay
"I remember coming in to treat Ashley one day and instantly feeling a connection," Pildis tells Shape. "She was so lovely and so was her husband and we just bonded over our names, our common interests, and eventually I started coming in to check in on her every week, even just to say hi."
When Landay arrived at MSKCC, the last thing she expected to find was a lifelong friendship. She'd just been diagnosed with breast cancer and was still wrapping her head around the tragic news. "It happened so fast," Landay says. "I was at work when I got a call from the doctor's office telling me that they'd found breast cancer cells after running some tests. I was just 34 years old, so it came as a huge shock to me."
A little over a week after finding out about her diagnosis, Landay started treatment for chemotherapy. Over the next few months, their friendship grew and eventually they figured out that they both had a passion for running.
"While I was going through chemo, I was running with my friends over the weekend," Landay says. "Running was incredibly healing for me during treatment and it was a way for my friends to be able to connect with me." (Related: These Women Prove That Running Can Help You Get Through Tough Times)
Photo: Ashley Landay
As Landay was wrapping up chemotherapy, she found out that Pildis was training for the TCS New York City Marathon on behalf of Fred's Team, MSKCC's marathon program. "I was so jealous," Landay says. "I instantly told [Ashley] that I wanted to do it, too."
Pildis, who was slightly nervous about running the race at first, was motivated by Landay's enthusiasm. "I wasn't even sure if I was going to actually go through with it. But when Ashley said she wanted to, I knew I didn't have an excuse," she says.
So, Landay and Pildis sent out an email to Fred's Team letting them know about their friendship and their cause, hoping that they would allow them to move forward. "I told them that I was still in treatment and really wanted to do this," Landay says. "I asked if it was too late, and they told us no and fully supported us."
On top of just being able to run alongside a person who'd had such a huge impact on her life, Landay wanted to run for Fred's Team to give back to MSKCC for everything they'd done for her. "I'd run a marathon a year before with my cancer support group, Gilda's Club, but this year I knew I wanted to run with Fred's Team since their cause was also very personal to me, and MSKCC had become such an important part of my life," Landay says.
Photo: Darren Carroll
After gathering a few more people, Pildis and Landay began training—running together most Saturdays. Come race day, they knew they wanted to run side by side, motivating each other the entire way.
"Ashley is a way faster runner than I am," Landay says. "She slowed way down to stick with me, but I was always about 3 or 4 feet behind her. And then the entire crowd would just scream our names and I'd catch back up."
One of the most memorable moments was running past MSKCC, where hundreds of people were waiting to show their support. "You know it's [MSKCC] coming with all the orange balloons, doctors in their white coats, and a whole block of people that are there specifically for you," Landay says. "For me, it was an out-of-body experience and I wish I had the time to hug everybody and thank them. They were the exact pick-me-up I needed towards the end."
Photo: Ashley Landay
Landay, Pildis, and their team raised $29,000 for Fred's Team, which has raised nearly $5 million as a whole this year. Together, they hope that people realize how running can help, in more ways than one.
"I want to start a conversation about how cancer is also a mental struggle and how running can help with that," Landay says. "It's what helped me get through that dark time when I thought my mortality was right at my feet—and that's a very, very powerful thing."