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Online Friends Make A Difference

Online Friends Make a Difference

By: Therese Droste

When Michele Lawless hit a weight-loss plateau in 2004, she turned to her buddies on the message boards who were facing the same problem. The online group resisted the idea of taking up running until someone suggested that they run for something, such as raising money to battle breast cancer.

"That night, I learned that my identical twin aunts had been diagnosed with breast cancer," says Lawless. "Preparing for a fundraising event became like a crusade for me."

Lawless and eight other General Daily Thread (GDT) members trained for and completed the Boston Komen Race for the Cure, one of more than 115 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) walk-run events held each year across the United States to raise money for breast cancer treatment and research. Training for the event pushed the members past their weight-loss plateaus — and much more.

"What began as a community of women interacting online about weight and health issues has grown into a true network of friends," says Lawless, 42, of Portland, Maine.

Support for Beginners
The spirit of the group attracted others on the GDT board. Julie Bianco, 28, from Weymouth, Massachusetts, saw the online postings and joined in. "I always wanted to run, and the Komen race gave me a great goal and added an incentive," says Bianco, who ran her first race in 2005. "It gave me more motivation to prepare for the race knowing that I was running toward something." Team GDT now has 35 members. In 2005 and 2006, they raised more than $72,000 for the Komen Foundation.

The online group supports new and old members as they begin to walk and jog in preparation for upcoming Komen events. "The board members would really cheer me on as I prepared, and we relied on one another leading up to the race for support," says Bianco, who has lost 62 pounds and maintained her goal weight for more than a year. "Someone on the GDT board always seemed to have a running tip, or a helpful way to deal with aches and pains. It kept me going as I trained. " Bianco and other Team GDT members also use the Couch-to-5K Running Plan, which helps people start walking and jogging to meet a race goal.

A Chance to Help One of Their Own
The GDT group took on new meaning when a member was diagnosed with breast cancer. "When one of our own was facing the fight, it drove us together as friends who not only shared the weight-loss experience together, but also cared about each other's lives," says Lawless. A week after her chemotherapy ended, the member walked with the group in a Race for the Cure. Lawless' twin aunts, currently in remission, continue to be involved—they throw a barbeque for Team GDT after the Boston Komen event each year to show their gratitude.

Joyous Events
The Komen races are motivating goals, but they're also fun and spirited social occasions — like a high school or college reunion. To pump up the mood, participants wear matching long-sleeved t-shirts and create unique Team GDT items for the group to wear, such as pink pompoms or chocolate-covered Oreos decorated with pink ribbons.

This year in Boston, the group met at a restaurant the night before the race, under a giant yellow "wide load" banner, the type used on highway trucks. "It's crazy, all-out spirit," says Bianco.

In an added twist, many in Team GDT are meeting face-to-face for the first time at the Komen events. "You've talked to these people online for months, and really feel like you know them well, even though you haven't even seen them," says Bianco. To lessen the confusion when meeting in person, everyone wears a button listing both their screen and real names.

Many in the group have reached goal weight. Lawless has lost 45 pounds and has 20 more to go. Now, she doesn't worry about weight-loss plateaus or motivation. "There is nothing like the feeling of running across the finish line with teammates, holding hands, and knowing you are running towards one minute, or hour, or day of helping someone become healthy," says Lawless. "To run embodies freedom and health."