For the past dozen years, Michael Greenebaum has served as the driving force for the Maryland Half Marathon & 5K, and this year was no exception.

But it was different, with the format of the May 30 event changing from in-person to virtual due to the pandemic.

“This year was really special,” said Greenebaum, a Pikesville resident and real estate developer who co-founded the gathering with his friend and fellow runner, Jon Sevel. “We had so many runners participate. Even those out of state stepped up to join the race, running either a virtual 5K or half marathon.”

Approximately 750 people participated in this year’s 12th annual University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Maryland Half Marathon & 5K, raising $260,000 for cancer research.

Michael Greenebaum is co-founder of the Maryland Half Marathon & 5K. (Courtesy photo)

The center is named in honor of Michael Greenebaum’s late parents, who were major benefactors of the University of Maryland Medical System and the University of Maryland School of Medicine, as well as to cancer research and education around the world.

Since its inception, the marathon and 5K held in the Howard County community of Maple Lawn has raised more than $4 million for the Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center, with all of its proceeds benefiting cancer research.

“The community really came through for us [this year] during a time when research and awareness for the cancer center is at its highest,” Michael Greenebaum said. “It’s heartwarming to know people love our event and want to make a difference. We have been so successful over the last 12 years because of our participants. I’m proud how the community reacted in a time of crisis.”

When it became clear a few months ago that restrictions due to COVID-19 would impact the race, Greenebaum admits he thought that cancelling the event was the only option.

But Dr. Kevin J. Cullen, director of the Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center, and the rest of his team suggested an option.

“I’ll admit I was skeptical when Dr. Cullen asked if we could do a virtual race,” said Greenebaum. “At that point, it had never been done and we were learning on the fly. I was nervous we wouldn’t be able to deliver what he was expecting from previous years.”

That’s when Greenebaum reached out to the race day sponsors, including St. John Properties and Berkeley Research group, and learned that they were fully committed if the race went virtual.

For Greenebaum, the dedication of the sponsors and staff at the cancer center meant the race was a go. To participate, runners were required to register like any other year and then raise funds. On race day, they printed out their bibs and ran or walked at a time and route of their choice.

Participants tracked their particular times and posted them to the event’s website after crossing their own designated finish line.

“I went out and ran a 5K, and it was nice when you have the luxury to pick your course,” said Greenebaum. “I think people really enjoyed the race and the fact that they could fit it into their schedules.

“It was great seeing runners post pictures on social media of them racing and making signs,” he said. “One woman even built a balloon arch to run through at her finish line.”

This year’s proceeds will go toward COVID-19 studies based on current cancer research. At the Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center, there is a clinical trial taking place repurposing a leukemia drug to determine if it prevents lung inflammation in COVID-19 patients who have had pneumonia.

“The Maryland Half Marathon & 5K is one of our cancer center’s premier fundraisers, and we are very grateful for the tremendous support we receive each year from the community,” said Dr. Cullen. “The funds raised by this event enable us to pursue groundbreaking cancer research that advances care for patients not only here in Maryland but around the world.”

Said Greenebaum: “It’s interesting to see how cancer research is closely related to COVID-19 research. There is a close bond between the two.”

Greenebaum said the memory of his mother, who passed away in December of 2018, was a strong motivational factor for him during this year’s event.

“She was a 30-year cancer survivor, and I always like to get the message of hope to everyone out there,” he said. “She did not have a good prognosis when diagnosed with breast cancer in 1990, and through tremendous strides and a drug developed at the cancer center, she was able to survive. Hopefully, research we are funding today, even with COVID-19, will make a difference and save someone’s life.”

Greenebaum said he’s looking forward to the race going back to in-person next year. But because of this year’s success, there may always be a virtual element, he said.

“The awareness for the cancer center, particularly this year, was needed,” said Greenebaum. “I dedicate this year to the health care workers. It’s all about the health care workers on front lines who still need to deliver chemotherapy or other treatments to patients. Patients can’t go without treatment and can’t go without research for their illnesses.”

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