Carolina Alirez’ parents made a lot of sacrifices for their children over the years. Alirez Maurilio and Maria Gonzalez were a couple who proved that hard work, commitment and a loving relationship relationship can take you far in life. They both grew up in large, Catholic families in Guadalajara, Mexico. They met, fell in love and began a family of their own. Unfortunately, they knew they could not provide for their family’s needs in Mexico. Maurilio moved to the United States to establish himself in a career in the land of opportunity. The couple had to live apart for 5 years, until Maurilio saved enough money to bring his wife and 4 children to live with him in California. It was worth it for the pair to weather these difficult times, as a better life lay ahead.
Knowing he had to work hard to improve his lot in the United States, Maurilio simultaneously worked and went to school full-time. He and Maria valued education above all else. The couple lived in a an apartment with their nine children so they could pay tuition for their children to attend Catholic school. It was not until their ninth child, Carolina, was born that they were finally able to buy a home of their own. Their children were their whole lives, and the couple believed they needed to provide the best educational opportunities possible, no matter the sacrifice. Maria was a stay-at-home mom who cared for the needs of their children. Carolina says, “Mom was the glue of the family. She kept it together. We never felt poor and always felt loved.”
In 1998, Maria became ill. She experienced severe back pain the day after Thanksgiving, but because she did not want to disrupt anyone’s holiday weekend, she did not inform her family that she was unwell until the following Monday morning. When she went to the doctor, the results were shocking to the family. 75-year-old Maria had stage IV pancreatic cancer. The doctors gave no hope for a cure, but they offered chemotherapy to help improve her quality of life. At first she refused any treatment. Maria had just watched a family member go through chemotherapy for cancer and she felt that she was too old to fight. However, after about six months, she decided to try Gemzar, a standard chemotherapy treatment, in hopes that it might help make her more comfortable. Unfortunately, after starting chemotherapy, she began a more rapid physical decline. She chose to stop chemotherapy shortly after starting. Maria passed away in 1999, at the age of 76, just 13 months after her diagnosis.
There have been many difficult moments for Carolina since she lost her mother 17 years ago. Carolina wishes her mom had been here to see her own sons, Nick and Eric, grow up. Nick remembers his grandmother well. “I wish my mom had been alive to see the boys graduate. It would have given her a lot of joy. Pancreatic cancer robs you of these memories. Seeing my mom deteriorate as she did was the hardest thing I have ever gone through in my life, “Carolina explains.
There are many happy memories of her mother, though. Carolina remembers going with her mom to watch her brothers run the Los Angeles marathon. When Carolina was in junior high, she asked her mom about joining cross country or track. Maria had told her ‘girls don’t run’, because that had been her experience during her own childhood in Mexico. Years later, Carolina went with her mom to watch two of her brothers finish the LA Marathon. As they finished, Maria excitedly turned to Carolina and said, “Why aren’t you doing that?” Carolina laughed, because she clearly remembered her mother telling her that girls did not run.
Carolina took up running about ten years ago. Her husband was writing his first book at the time, and he needed quiet while he worked. She decided to start a walking program to get herself out of the house so her husband could be productive. Through her walking, she made friends who introduced her to a local running club. Carolina is now a seasoned runner who has completed six full marathons and forty half-marathons. “I am slow, but I like to be out there,” Carolina says. “It is about the community. I met a lot of friends through running.” Carolina is actively involved in the Inland Empire Running Club out of Chino Hills, even leading pace groups for other runners. She says, “I don’t run for the exercise. I run for the social aspect and the friends I have made through the club.” She enjoys encouraging people who are new to running, so she strives to give the runners in her pace group the best experience possible.
Over the years before Maurilio passed away, he often came out to watch her finish her races. Often her sisters or brothers would support her as well. She loved having them all there, but she always missed her mom’s presence. She knew she wanted to do something in her mother’s memory. By chance, Carolina happened to meet “Marathon Goddess” Julie Weiss at a race. Julie was in the middle of running 52 marathons in 52 weeks for pancreatic cancer. The two women spoke and took a picture together. Carolina was inspired by the work that Julie was doing to raise money and awareness for pancreatic cancer. It was Julie who introduced Carolina to Project Purple. When Carolina learned of Project Purple and its mission of Running to Beat Pancreatic Cancer, she knew she wanted to run the OC Marathon in honor of her mother. She has run the OC marathon previously and was impressed by the beauty of the course.
Carolina plans to donate her race medals, including her OC medal, to cancer patients. She hopes that the gift of receiving her medals will help someone who is battling more than she ever will during a 26.2 mile race. Marathons are tough for sure, but cancer is a hard battle. She knows firs-thand how cancer affected her own family. It is a pain that she hopes no one else will have to experience. “I would not wish this on anyone,” Carolina says. She still holds images in her mind of her mother wasting away to nothing due to her illness. Her heart broke as she saw her father miss his wife. “It was devastating and heartbreaking. My mom did not want to die in pain. It was not fair to see her in pain, because she always worked so hard to take care of everyone else.” Please make a tax-deductible donation to Carolina’s OC Marathon Project Purple fundraiser at the following link: