In the fall of 2015, high school senior Seán Coffey suggested to his father, John, that they run a half-marathon. John, who had also never run a half-marathon, thought that it would be fantastic for the two of them to run together. Seán corrected his father’s misinterpretation of events, saying, “We can start together, but we won’t finish together!” At six-feet tall and 275 pounds, John Coffey does not have a typical runner’s build. However, he wanted to help his son achieve a ‘bucket list’ goal. Father and son are preparing to run the Lincoln Half-Marathon with Project Purple, but how they ended up joining the team is an interesting twist of fate.
John and Seán Coffey
Since the Coffey family lives in Nebraska, the father-son duo decided that their goal would be to complete the Lincoln Half-Marathon. By the time they attempted to sign up, however, the race was full. John’s friend, Gene Deyoe, told John that he could still gain race entry through the Project Purple team. Gene is an active member of the Lincoln running community who had previously run with the Project Purple team. He had a good experience as part of the team in 2014 and 2015, so he encouraged John to look into running with the team.
John is a supplemental insurance agent for Family Heritage Life Insurance Company. He sells policies which cover expenses related to cancer treatment. Because of his work, he has a very clear understanding of the devastating nature of pancreatic cancer. “I am lucky that I do not have any family members that have suffered from pancreatic cancer,” John says. “But I do know that if there is one cancer that you do not want to have, it is pancreatic.”
When John and Seán first looked at the fundraising commitment for the Project Purple Lincoln team, Seán was intimidated to see that it was $500 per person. John reminded him that he and Seán’s younger brother, Nick, had once raised $800 in three hours selling wreaths door-to-door for the Cub Scouts. John knew they could achieve their fundraising goal.
They signed on to run with the team and recruited two other people to join them. John’s younger sister, Buffy Harrison, and her friend, Denise Pohlmann, will be running with John and Seán’s Team Coffey. Buffy brings running experience to the team. She has run several half-marathons and one full marathon previously. Denise brings a sense of meaning to the cause, as she lost her mother to pancreatic cancer six years ago this past week.
John insists that he and his son are not ‘typical’ runners. Seán is athletic, but favors tennis and in particular biking on Lincoln’s many bike trails. He has developed a love for the trails and being outdoors that translates easily to running. John ran a ten-mile race several years ago, but he will be making his first attempt at the half-marathon distance now at the age of 52. John grew up in southern Nebraska, just north of the Kansas border, and moved to Lincoln to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. After graduation, he felt the need to get out, experience life and see the world. He moved to Europe and lived in a number of different countries, including France, Spain, England and Ireland. He started running while living in Europe as a way to see the countryside. When he lived in Madrid, he participated in his first charity event, a fundraising walk for Alzheimer’s disease.
John and his wife, Maritza, met in Paris. Maritza, originally from the South American country of Peru, had also left her native land to get a chance to see the world. Their mutual wanderlust and sense of adventure brought them to Europe and led them to one another. The couple wed and had sons, Seán and Nick. The family moved to Seattle and finally settled in Lincoln, NE, so they could be near relatives. The community of Lincoln, Nebraska has been welcoming to the Coffey family and John has been particularly appreciative of the friends he has made among the running community.
As he closes in on the final days before the Lincoln Marathon, John is looking forward to fulfilling a life goal with his son while making his miles matter. He is planning to start the race with his whole team, but he is hoping to go the distance with Buffy and Denise. John is happy to be running for Project Purple in support of pancreatic cancer research. “This is a great cause. I just know that from the work that I do,” John explains. “It is cool to be part of a group where you hope you can raise enough money to make an impact in people’s lives. I am getting to spend time with family and friends and am hoping that I can make a difference.”
John knows that pancreatic cancer needs more funding immediately. “When someone says ‘pancreatic cancer’, it almost never ends well. It does make me appreciate what I have. My family is healthy, but that can change in an instant. People do not appreciate the randomness of cancer, but the odds of getting cancer are not good; one out of two men – and one out of three women – get cancer. Everybody knows someone who has been through cancer. Who knows which person you know that could be next?”
Please make a tax-deductible donation to Team Coffey’s Project Purple Lincoln Half-Marathon fundraising team at the following link: