Meet Jane Cullis, Project Purple’s running coach, who just happens to also be a Pancreatic Cancer researcher. Jane’s professional experience with Pancreatic Cancer, and her background as an elite runner/coach, made her the perfect person to partner with Project Purple. Jane serves on Project Purple’s scientific advisory board, which decides which research projects will receive funding from the charity. She also provides personal coaching programs for anyone who signs on to run with the Project Purple team.
Jane Cullis grew up in Vancouver, BC. She was a ballet dancer from a young age. However, when Jane went to college at McGill University, she knew that she would not be dancing professionally. Looking for a new athletic endeavor, she turned to triathlons. Jane said she was not a very strong swimmer or cyclist, but she quickly found out that she was a talented runner. The tri coaches at McGill encouraged her to join the school cross country team. Jane ran cross country and track in college and excelled at both. Though she enjoyed cross country, she had a feeling that she would really do well in longer races, such as the half-marathon and the marathon. She looked forward to tackling both after graduating from college.
After completing her degree at McGill, Jane moved on to Toronto to pursue a PhD in medical biophysics. As part of her PhD program, Jane studied the unique biology of Pancreatic Cancer tumors. Jane had already been personally affected by Pancreatic Cancer twice in her life. When she was a very young child, she had lost grandfather to Pancreatic Cancer. While she remembers little of his battle, she remembers the impact that it made on her mother and her aunt. Pancreatic Cancer touched her life again when the father of one of her closest friend’s was diagnosed with this disease. He lost his battle with Pancreatic Cancer just two months after receiving his diagnosis. When Jane started her education, she had not planned to go into Pancreatic Cancer Research, but it has become her passion in life.
While Jane worked on her PhD, she continued to run competitively. She joined an elite women’s developmental running team in Toronto. From 2011 until 2013, she ran as a sponsored athlete with the Adidas team. During this time, she posted a personal record (PR) of 1:16:43 in the half-marathon and a 2:54:08 in the full marathon. Jane’s running career was taking off, and she was featured on the cover of Canadian Running Magazine.
In 2011, Jane was training to run the Chicago Marathon when she tore a tendon in her shin. Jane was side-lined for almost a year from this devastating injury. It was while she recovered from this injury that she took her love for running in a new direction and began coaching.
After completing her studies in Toronto, Jane moved to New York City for post-doctorate work at New York University. Jane moved to New York to work with Pancreatic Cancer researcher Dr. Dafna Bar-Sagi. Jane had been inspired by Dr Bar-Sagi’s work since she was a graduate student in 2008. Dr Bar-Sagi had made some fundamental discoveries in understanding the biology and signaling of Ras-mutated cancers. Jane describes Dr. Bar-Sagi as a strong, confident, successful woman who has a “way of communicating science that is unique and captivating”. It was Dr. Bar-Sagi’s who inspired Jane to come to New York City and to continue her own research into Pancreatic Cancer.
At NYU, Jane became involved in studying various aspects of Pancreatic Cancer biology. She wanted to pursue this area of study, because there is so much that is not understood about this particular cancer. She is involved in a study that is trying to unravel how the metabolism of Pancreatic Cancer cells differs from other types of cancers. Jane is trying to learn more about the mechanism that has allowed the tumor cells to adapt, mutate and survive. She is particularly interested in finding out more about the signaling cascades that trigger the growth of pancreatic cancer. She is also involved in a pre-clinical trial that is looking into immune therapy that is used in conjunction with the chemotherapies Gemzar and Abraxane.
While Jane pursued her research, she returned to recreational running. She wanted to run the New York City Half-Marathon, and she wanted the race to be a meaningful experience. Jane applied to be a part of the Project Purple team. On her application for the NYC Half-Marathon team, Jane explained her background as a runner and a Pancreatic Cancer researcher. She was contacted that night by Project Purple chairman, Dino Verrelli. They had a long discussion ranging from research to running, and it was then that Jane’s relationship with Project Purple was established. Jane ran for the Project Purple team at the New York City Half-marathon in 2014. She also signed on with the organization as the official running coach. Whereas Jane had worked with much more experienced runners in Toronto, her work with Project Purple often has her working with clients who are new to running. Jane says that coaching new athletes is very rewarding. She explains that when new runners are motivated, it is very exciting. “The newer athletes have such untapped potential. They may really struggle on their first one or two mile runs, but by the end, they think that a half-marathon is a short distance”.
Jane Cullis is a woman who has been able to combine her love of running with her interest in unraveling the mysteries of Pancreatic Cancer. It is the marriage of these passions that cements her relationship with Project Purple and the people who run on the Project Purple team. As the Project Purple coach, Jane welcomes athletes of all abilities as they join the team in efforts to beat pancreatic cancer.