It's another Saturday morning but Ashley Balavender isn't sleeping in.
The Brooklyn College student, a 2004 graduate of Coginchaug High School, is training for an upcoming race called the Bermuda Triangle Challenge.
If the race sounds tough, it's because it is.
The 26-year-old Balavender is a member of Team in Training, a program developed by The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society that provides training for athletes who in turn help raise money for LLS.
"I took on this challenge because my grandfather was taken by leukemia two years ago," says Balavender.
"He was a strong and active man before the disease, and it was heartbreaking to watch him suffer. I started thinking about all the people who have cancer and don’t have health insurance or a supportive family. I started thinking about the children who are taken by cancer before having the opportunity to live a long and fulfilling life. That’s how I decided that I need to help in some way."
With help from family and friends, Balavender has already surpassed her fundraising goal of $3,700.
"I would tell those thinking of donating that their money goes to not only research for a cure, but also patient and family support services. LLS helps people pay for their medication, which is often thousands of dollars per month," she says.
In January, Balavender will run in the Bermuda Triangle Challege, a three-day event that features a one-mile race, 10K and a half-marathon.
"It’s been a huge challenge since I go to school full-time and work two jobs," Balavender says about training, "but some of my teammates either have or have battled cancer and they inspire me to keep pushing myself."
Balavender is studying English Literature and Journalism at Brooklyn College in Queens and works as a writer/editor in the marketing department at LaGuardia Community College.
When she's not busy training or studying, she's waitressing.
Last month, she joined a group that visited Staten Island to help with the recovery effort there following Hurricane Sandy. The group spent the day emptying homes, tearing out waterlogged carpeting and dryall, and providing food and conversation to storm victims.
"It was such an emotional experience, but these people who were left with nothing were so friendly and appreciative. They really offered as much to me emotionally as I offered to them," says Balavender.
Despite the emotionally and physically long day, Balavender says a group of TIT members ran the seven miles back to the Staten Island Ferry.
"At the start of every group training session one of my teammates gives what we call a “mission moment.” Someone tells the story of a person they love who is fighting blood cancer or has lost the battle to it. Sometimes someone shares the story of her own fight against cancer. We listen, and we ache and we well up with tears. And then we run."