Shay Frey Runs for Best Friend’s Dad

There is a saying, “Friends are family we choose for ourselves.” Shay Frey found out how true this sentiment was while she was a student at Syracuse University. She and fellow photography major Jenny Jakubowski became best friends during their college years. When Jenny’s father became ill, Shay wanted to do something in his honor. She is now training to run the New York City Marathon with Project Purple as a way to commemorate John Jakubowski’s life and his battle with pancreatic cancer.

Jenny and Shay at Syracuse University
Jenny and Shay at Syracuse University

Jenny Jakubowski says, “My dad was a strong-willed, powerful person.  When he walked into a room you knew it right away, his presence commanded attention.  He was a big man, very stylish.  When I think of him I think of him flying down the road in his car, playing his music loudly wearing a sharp suit and a big hat and his Ray Ban aviators that had a purple tint to them–that was him.  He was a good man, who cared about his family tremendously—he gave me everything I ever needed and wanted and he gave me a way to pursue my dreams and study photo illustration in college.  He worked hard for his company and was very well known and well respected by his colleagues.  He had many very good friends that came from his work.”

“I only met Jenny’s dad a couple of times, but she has been an incredible friend to me. Her father got really sick right when we were graduating from college,” Shay explains. John Jakubowski was Group Vice President of M & T Bank Trust Investments when he was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. “We found out he had stage IV pancreatic cancer in March, 2014. Every time Jenny and I spoke, it seemed there was more bad news,” Shay remembers.

John had a short but extremely difficult battle with pancreatic cancer. Jenny says, “He was experiencing stomach pain for several months–his doctor told him it was nothing to worry about and by the time they paid attention to it, it was too late and was already stage four.  He was diagnosed in March and gone by June.  He underwent several types of chemo and had many complications due to his diabetes.  He was in tremendous amounts of pain and suffered terribly the entire time.”

Shay Runs a Marathon

Despite the fact that Shay’s parents, Fayne and Roger, are avid runners and triathletes, Shay was not particularly interested in running when she was younger. She played other sports, primarily softball, throughout her high school years but running just did not appeal to her.“I tried running short runs with my mom a couple of years ago,” Shay says. “I thought I was going to die the whole time.”

Shay and her mom, Fayne, running the Diva Half-Marathon in 2015
Shay and her mom, Fayne, running the Diva Half-Marathon in 2015

Following her college graduation, Shay ran her own photography business. She had been applying for other jobs but had not landed anything solid. Her self-confidence had begun to slide when her mother asked her if she wanted to run the Philadelphia marathon with her. Shay says, “I couldn’t think of a reason to say no, so I said yes!”

Though she had never imagined that she would be a runner, let alone a marathon runner, Shay had a great experience at the Philadelphia Marathon in November, 2015. She loved the challenge of the distance and absorbed the energy from the crowds. Crossing the finish line provided her with a huge sense of accomplishment and boosted her confidence in herself. It was just what she needed at that point in her life.

Fayne, Shay and Roger Frey crossing the finish line of the Philadelphia Marathon
Fayne, Shay and Roger Frey crossing the finish line of the Philadelphia Marathon

Shay Signs on for NYCM

Immediately after finishing the Philadelphia Marathon, she started thinking about running a race in John Jakubowski’s honor. With strong ties to the New York City area, Shay was very familiar with the New York City Marathon and knew she wanted to run the esteemed race for a pancreatic cancer charity. She did some online research and was delighted when she found Project Purple. When slots opened up for the 2016 race, she immediately applied to be part of the team.

At the BIG George Tri: left to right Shay's father, Roger, brother, Zach, Shay, aunt Erica Levine and Fayne Frey
At the BIG George Tri: left to right Shay’s father, Roger, brother, Zach, Shay, aunt Erica Levine and Fayne Frey

Training has been a different experience this time around. When she prepared for her previous marathon, she was not working full-time. Now she gets up to run at 5 am before heading to work. While this schedule may sound difficult, Shay enjoys having the time to be alone with her thoughts.

Training for the New York City Marathon is also different for her in another way. Being a part of a team and running for a charity provides a unique marathon experience. Shay says, “I feel like I am part of something bigger than myself, which is incredible. I pushes me to perform better.” Because she wants to up her game this time around, she created goals for herself to help increase donations to Project Purple. She would post these goals, such as ‘Run 1 mile under an 8 minute pace’ on social media. Whenever she reached one of her milestones, her friends and family showed their support by making donations to her fundraiser. “It has been incredible to see the people who are supporting me. People who are new in their careers and may not have a lot of extra money have made donations.”

Shay’s Support Crew

Shay is looking forward to race day. Jenny and her mom, Lynne, will both be in New York City supporting her at the marathon. It is a cause near and dear to their hearts, as their family now has a second member who is battling pancreatic cancer. Shay is deeply impacted by their pain and says, “If there was a way I could eradicate pancreatic cancer for them, I would do it in a second.”

Jenny and Shay
Jenny and Shay

Additionally, Shay’s parents will be out on race day to cheer her on. They have both completed the New York City Marathon and are proud that their daughter is now running the iconic race.

As Shay runs to fight against pancreatic cancer, she is thankful for what running and Project Purple have given her. She appreciates how wonderful and supportive the organization has been throughout the training and fundraising process. She also is grateful for the gifts running has given her. She adds, “You don’t know what you are capable of until you force yourself to do something.”


Please support Shay’s Project Purple fundraiser by making a donation to the following link:

Follow Project Purple on Social Media

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