Jesse Fox’s connections to running run deep. His adoptive mother, an Irish Catholic former nun chose the name Jesse in honor of Jesse Owens, a strong male African American role model that could provide inspiration for Fox in his own life.
“I think she wanted me to have a positive strong, black name, and someone I could look up to later in my life,” said Fox, “It was someone positive for me to be able to look up to and to be able to have the feelings I do have that are tied to feelings of strength and accomplishment that he had.”
His mother never imagined that her Jesse would become a marathoner. She also couldn’t have predicted her pancreatic cancer diagnosis. However, even with all these unexpected twists and turns, Fox’s mother always tried to give her son all the support and love he needed to succeed in everything he does, including his running career.
Now, Fox is getting ready to tackle Berlin. The Berlin Marathon, where Jesse Ownes won four gold medals, on a date just two days shy of his mother’s birthday, is something Fox feels he has to do, both for himself and for his mother.
“The ties that our family has with my namesake, with Jesse Owens, with it being a couple of days after her birthday, it was just something that fit,” said Fox, “she wanted me to, and I made sure I promised her I would run this race.”
Caring is Caregiving
When asked to describe his mother, Fox said to picture “the most amazing and selfless person possible.” Before she adopted Fox and his sister, she lived as a nun. After the adoptions, she transitioned into teaching later on in life and taught in Cambridge, MA for over 30 years. Throughout her decades-long career, his mother worked to better whatever community she inhabited, and her impact was felt long after her passing.
“She has reached out, and touched so many people in so many amazing ways,” said Fox, “from former students who came to her service to former parents to former colleagues. It was just an amazing outpouring and showing for the type of person she was.”
Fox’s mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the spring of 2022. Fox, who works in the security and intelligence sector of IT, chose to work remotely when his mother was diagnosed. He, along with his sister, were the primary caregivers for their mom.
Being the sole caretakers of their mother, the Fox children needed to strategize. A highly detail-oriented person, Fox took on the task of planning his mother’s daily routines and coordinating them with his schedule in order to balance his responsibilities as an employee and as a caregiver. He became a cook, a source of comfort, and a provider for his mother during her diagnosis.
“I think that any son would do the things that I did for their mother,” said Fox when asked about all his life during his mother’s treatments.
However, being a primary caregiver came with some unwelcome challenges. The family only received outside help twice a week when a nurse from Beth Israel came to check his mother’s vitals. She was able to offer the Foxes advice about how to take care of their ailing mother, but beyond that, they were on their own.
“Now knowing the way that things were handled, there could have been more, during the process, more one on one with a nurse, or just someone being here more often,” said Fox, “I would have rather had someone here that was more permanent. Just to help with some of the overnight things. There were nights when my sister and I didn’t sleep, for example.”
Part of what helped alleviate some of the stress on the Fox children was their mother herself. Fox’s mother took the time to cultivate emotional supports for her children to help them cope with her passing.
“Just last week I was going through and cleaning out some stuff in her room, just going through paperwork and stuff and I found these notes and things highlighted for her will, the songs and readings she wanted at her funeral,” Fox recounts. “ My mom was always that way, always planning ahead and taking care of things. And it wasn’t just for her, it was for us. I think because she had been through the loss of her parents. So, I think she tried to make the process for us as easy as possible.”
Fox even had a goodnight message with his mother, something the two of them could say to each other just in case that night was their last one together.
“The most important thing that I have spoken about a lot is that we had a goodbye message,” said Fox, “The cadence of it was pretty thought out and organized and methodical in terms of ‘if this is the last time I see you, this is what I want to say to you…’ Don’t leave anything unsaid.”
Fox doesn’t regret any of the times he shared with his mother before she passed in March of this year. He remembers appreciating that their mother helped them through their cancer journey as much as they helped her through hers.
Running through the Sea of Negativity
Fox’s mother’s support extended past the preparations she made for her children during her illness. Fox remembers how she continued to champion him and his running during her diagnosis.
“Anything that was healthy and positive, she would promote. And she saw my running as me growing as an individual,” said Fox.
Fox, who was a collegiate football player, needed a new way to stay active after graduation. He picked up running as a way to challenge himself, to do something different. He found that running helped him find clarity and perspective.
“There’s this thing called the runner’s high,” Fox explained. “Where your brain starts to kick in and there’s a moment that you’ll experience when you have clarity on things. You have your best judgment towards everything and your best intentions and you are able to dissect the issues in your life and handle them in a very good way.”
His goal became to complete all six of the world majors. He continued to run, pushing himself both mentally and physically. Just after his mother’s diagnosis, Fox ran the 2022 New York City Marathon. This would be his third world major marathon and his fourth marathon overall.
“Throughout that training process I knew that she wanted me to keep up with everything I was doing because it was extremely positive for me through a sea of negativity, the fact that running was still there was important,” said Fox.
His mother supported his running even more once she was diagnosed because it helped her son maintain his overall well-being during her treatments.
“For me, running provides clarity, running provides a way for me to dissect everything, the negative and positive emotions I was having through mom’s treatment, so she encouraged me often to keep doing it, for my own health, physically and mentally,” said Fox.
However, even though Fox enjoys the personal challenge of running, he also recognizes that he could not have pushed himself the way he did without the support of those around him.
“Any support you get for running a marathon is really helpful,” said Fox, “It’s everything… If you have friends there along the course, they’re going to provide you with this extra kick of energy. It gives you more support than you know, You will be invigorated by it. Along the course, you sometimes hit a wall… If you aren’t a strong positive person, you need your friends and family there to help carry you through. Even if you are, 26.2 miles will break you at some point and you need to have people there to help you keep going.”
Sadly, Fox’s mother won’t be able to cheer him on at his next race, but he knows that his mom wanted him to continue to push himself in a healthy way. So he will.
Berlin on the Horizon
Now, Fox has a promise to keep.
Even though he’s driven to run in Berlin for personal reasons, he still wants to enjoy the process. He encourages all runners to do so, and to push themselves in a way that fits them and their personal goals.
“Enjoy it, push yourself as much as you want to. You are going to see runners all over the place when you’re running. And I think it can be very daunting to have people that are flying by either way or see people with shirts on that say Boston Marathon Runner or Finisher or whatever. Don’t let that get in your head. I think the biggest piece of advice that I have learned is that running is very much between yourself, it’s a competition internally. Every person needs to run their own race.”
If you want to donate to Jesse Fox’s fundraising efforts, you can click here to donate to his page. If you want to get more involved like Jesse, please see our Upcoming Events page. Thank you to Jesse and all those who support Project Purple’s efforts to stop pancreatic cancer. And good luck in Berlin!