Suburban couple takes on Boston Marathon, together, just not side-by-side

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A story of determination and setback, of strength and disease, of hope and love. A marathon runner — 22 races into a 50 state marathon tour — when he meets the love of his life. They decide to run a marathon together. Then her legs gave out. But they are still tackling this year’s Boston Marathon – a bit of a detour from their original plan, and an even greater challenge.

Chris Benyo: “When we were dating, getting to know each other, I said we ought to run a marathon together. And she liked the idea. That was our plan, and it just changed a little bit.”

So many of their plans changed in December 2010. That’s when 51-year-old Denise Di Marzo was diagnosed with ALS, just six months after she married Chris Benyo.

Chris Benyo: “She just started knowing something was different. She would be in the grocery store and just fall, no rhyme or reason.”

There’s no reasoning with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. It mounts a quick and devastating attack on the muscles leaving patients immobile yet acutely aware of the demise of their bodies. Denise now relies on a motorized wheelchair to get around and – with her tongue muscle impacted – a computer to speak. But she’s still pursuing her marathon dream.

Denise Di Marzo: “I had to give up the life I had. We often joke that we gave up our rollerblades, bikes and cross-country skis for walkers, wheelchairs and joggers. So we’re still out there, staying active.”

For the Boston Marathon — instead of running side-by-side — Chris Benyo will push his wife in a jogger. It will be their third marathon together.

Chris Benyo: “Denise will tell you she feels more alive when she’s in that jogger and I’m pushing her. She feels like she has her legs again. But I just want to enjoy it. I want Denise to enjoy it. We’re not setting any world records here.”

But they are raising money. In Boston they’ll run for the University of Massachusetts Champion Fund benefitting ALS research.

Chris Benyo: “One of the things that’s big in Boston this year is, ‘We run together.’ With Denise and I, I think we’re a great definition of ‘we run together.’ No matter how awful this disease is, we’re running together and hopefully bring some awareness to this awful disease.”

And they did just that … finishing the marathon in Boston with smiles on their faces and ready to face the next challenge – together.

Chris and Denise ran today’s race in four hours and 36 minutes – a personal best for them. Their next stop is New Jersey, where they’ll run another marathon next Sunday to benefit the Les Turner Foundation. You can help them out at …

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