Jennifer Garner Does Tough Mudder For Grandfather

Jennifer Garner remembers the moment that her family first realized something was wrong with her grandfather, Marvin ‘M.A.’ Wallace. Family members had gathered in Arkansas for a wedding in September, 2015, and Jennifer’s mother noticed that M.A.’s eyes had an unusual yellow hue. A tumor was blocking his bile duct, causing him to become jaundiced. The family soon learned shocking news. M.A., who was healthy and strong, had stage II pancreatic cancer. At 77-years-old, he was still so fit and healthy that he had recently walked five miles in the Arkansas summer heat to get help after his truck broke down. Doctors decided to proceed with the Whipple surgery. Though the Whipple is a very complicated surgery, it would provide the only hope that M.A. would be cured of his cancer. It was a risky move, but the doctors and M.A.’s family knew there was no other option.

M.A. Wallace
M.A. Wallace

The day before his surgery, M.A. handed Jennifer a $100 bill to repay her for the trip she had made from her home in Massachusetts to Arkansas. She explains, “He thought it was ridiculous that I came all of that way to see him!” Jennifer and her family went to the hospital to check on her grandfather following his surgery. M.A. was unable to speak, but he made contact with his family, indicating that he recognized them. Patients who undergo the Whipple often spend days or weeks in the Intensive Care Unit following their surgery. Amazingly, he was able to move out of the ICU the very next day. He was able to get up from his bed. He ate ice chips. Most importantly, he told everyone that he loved them. The family was encouraged by the positive strides he made so quickly. Just days after his surgery, he celebrated his 78th birthday. Then, the unthinkable happened. M.A. developed a lung infection. Despite the best efforts of his medical team, he never recovered. He passed away on October 24th, 2015. He left behind his wife of 58 years, Vaudine, his three children, and his large extended family.

Jennifer's extended family. M.A. is center, left.
Jennifer’s extended family. M.A. is center, left.

Jennifer spent the first 16 years of her life in Arkansas. She spent a lot of time with her grandparents while she was growing up and developed a very close relationship with her M.A. She remembers her grandfather as being one of the most kind-hearted and generous people she has ever known.  M.A. liked to hunt, and while Jennifer had no interest in killing animals, she often went along with him. The two would sit in a tree stand and end up just talking for hours.

M.A. on a hunting trip.
M.A. on a hunting trip.

When Jennifer was in the 7th grade, her grandmother, Vaudine, had a stroke. She never regained her full physical functionality. She was completely dependent upon M.A. for her physical care. He tenderly took care of his wife. He did everything for her, including dressing and feeding her every day. “It was the hardest thing for us to watch my grandmother lose her spouse and not understand what was happening. She was completely convinced he would be back in a day or two,” Jennifer recalls.

M.A. lived in Arkansas his entire life. Though he never attended college, he worked his way up from his position as a mechanic and became a very successful businessman who invented and sold farming equipment. He was well-respected by his employees and the people of his community. His kind heart led him to hire people who came from difficult backgrounds. “He hired people who needed a second chance. He believed in people,” Jennifer explains. M.A. believed in the value of an education. He pushed all of his grandchildren to get an education so that they could reach their full potential in life. Jennifer says, “I am an attorney and he is the reason why I went to law school. He told me that it was something that I needed to do.”

Jennifer garner, grandpa & friend

Jennifer Chooses Tough Mudder to Honor Grandfather

Jennifer does not consider herself to be a runner. In fact, she does not particularly enjoy running. She was recruited to play soccer at Mount Holyoke College. She began her college career as a soccer player. However, when she was 19, she switched to become a rugby player. She played the sport until 2015. While she has always had to run during her chosen sports, she has never fully developed a love of running. She completed one half-marathon a while back just to prove that she could do it, but it is not something she ever felt like repeating. These days, her choice of workout is CrossFit.

The day after her grandfather was diagnosed, Jennifer went to CrossFit at 6 am. The workout of the day was called ‘Glen’ and involved running a mile in between other exercises. It was cold, windy, pouring rain and miserable. Though she did not want to do the workout, she thought to herself, “There are so many worse things than what I am doing now. If grandpa can make it through pancreatic cancer, I can make it through Glen.” She adds, “I made it through, but he did not. Those grueling workouts now remind me of him.”

Jennifer at the finish of a half-marathon.
Jennifer at the finish of a half-marathon.

After losing her grandfather, Jennifer went looking for pancreatic cancer-specific fundraising races. She stumbled across Project Purple and saw that they were partners with Tough Mudder. The idea of doing a challenging obstacle course run that is 12 miles long seemed like just the grueling workout that now connects her to her grandfather. Jennifer explains her motivation, saying, “I want to make my grandfather proud. It seems silly to say it like that because he was already proud of me. However, it was incredible watching him wither into someone who was unrecognizable. It was incredible how fast it happened. It is incredible that there has been no progress for pancreatic cancer in 40 years and it is incredible that when I tell people that, they have no idea. The amount of pain pancreatic cancer caused my family is indescribable. If I can raise awareness and raise funds so that maybe someone else does not have to endure it, then that will be worth it.”

M.A. and Jennifer
M.A. and Jennifer

Please make a tax-deductible donation to Jennifer’s Project Purple Tough Mudder at the following link:

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