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A friend indeed

Cassie Taylor has never run a marathon before.

Just six months ago, she had never even run more than eight miles at one time. But that all changed one morning this past fall at about 5 a.m.

The Greenfield native received an email four hours earlier from her friend and co-worker Carla Tardif that tore her heart out. The two women work for the Family Reach Foundation in Boston, and Tardif has been an inspiration to Taylor. Last spring, Tardif ran her first Boston Marathon to raise money for families affected by breast cancer. She raised roughly $20,000 with her triumph, plenty to help out numerous families in need. Tardif had plenty of inspiration to run for breast cancer, because it’s prevalent in her family. In fact, the disease is so prevalent that Tardif underwent “preventive” surgery.

After surviving the brutal heat of last year’s Boston Marathon, Tardif decided to run again this spring. She got her number and was preparing to raise funds when her life changed. In August, she found out that despite her best attempts to prevent it, breast cancer had reared it ugly head. For a while, Tardif said she was still planning on running in the marathon but treatment was going to make that impossible. Eventually, she came to the realization she would be unable to run, so one night she e-mailed Taylor to let her know her decision.

Taylor didn’t sleep well after that, and at 5 a.m. she e-mailed Tardif back.

“I said, ‘I’m taking your number and I’m running for you,’” Taylor said.

In less than a month Taylor will strap on the number and take her place among more than 20,000 runners when the starting gun goes off on April 15 in Hopkinton.

I’ve known Cassie since she was a high school student at Northfield Mount Hermon School. She and brother Jason Taylor worked on our family farm in Greenfield for a number of summers, picking cucumbers and other vegetables. It’s rare for a girl to continually come back to the farm after one year but Cassie put in at least four summers. Perhaps some of that hard work helped prepare her in advance for her run. Probably not.

After graduating from NMH in 2008, Cassie headed to Elon (N.C.) University in the fall as an undergraduate, graduating in the spring of 2011. Taylor was initially interested in becoming an athletic trainer (she interviewed with pro sports teams) and was helped out by her friend and mentor Kristen Kuliga, an NFL agent best known for representing Doug Flutie, but she also has many other pro football clients. Taylor had interned for Kuliga and the agent helped her set up interviews with teams. Taylor moved to Boston but said she soured on the idea of working with a professional team because many of the available entry-level jobs did not interest her. She instead began her own personal-training company, Olli Fitness, and worked as a personal trainer in Boston. She received another life-altering call from Kuliga, though. Kuliga told her to clear her schedule for one day because she had someone she wanted to meet. It was Tardif, and after meeting, it was not long before Taylor was hired full-time at Family Reach and began working for the national non-profit in January of 2012.

According to Taylor, the Family Reach Foundation provides financial relief for families battling cancer. The organization is different because, instead of providing money for cancer research like so many other non-profits, it instead focuses on helping families remain on their feet while battling the disease. Taylor offered an example of a family with a cancer-stricken child with one parent who must stop working due to the circumstances. That makes it harder for the family to keep up on everyday bills. Family Reach helps such families pay those bills, while much of the family income goes toward paying medical expenses.

“We provide a very quick turnaround,” Taylor said.

The foundation was started in 1996 by a pair of New Jersey families that each lost children to cancer. Tardif has helped the organization grow, taking it from a $200,000 organization to a $1 million non-profit in 2011. Last year, Family Reach raised about $1.2 million, showing continuing growth despite a down economy.

“We’ve managed to grow because people can directly see the families they are helping,” Taylor said. “Our goal is to provide financial relief and heartfelt support to families fighting cancer.”

Family Reach works in conjunction with 17 hospitals nationwide. It typically does not take on cases that come directly from people. Instead,the organization is contacted by social workers.

The fundraising is done in multiple ways. Some people contact the company and set up their own events, while the organization also runs golf outings, 5K road races, tennis tournaments and other competitions and events. Their biggest event, called “Cooking Live,” takes place at the Ritz Carlton in both New York and Boston, bringing six celebrity chefs together to create a six-course meal. Actor Matt Damon hosted the 2012 New York event.

And now there is Taylor, who is picking up where her friend left off. Prior to this, she said she had not run more than eight miles at one time. She’s been pounding the pavement to prepare, and on March 3 she did her first 20-mile race. She said it hasn’t been easy.

“The first few races were really tough,” she said. “It’s getting better now. I kind of get into this zone and when things get tough around mile 14. I just mentally push through it. All of a sudden it doesn’t kill you and you just push through.”

She has one more 23-mile race this Saturday, then will be set to run the marathon.

“It pushes you a little harder when you know that you’re out there running to raise money for a kid battling cancer.”

The money she makes will go toward that effort. But as Taylor said, the fire under her feet as she runs will come from Tardif.

Anyone interested in donating money to Taylor can do so by going to www.crowdrise.com/teamfamilyreachfoundation/fundraiser/cassietaylor.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com.

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