Sleepy Hollow Resident Trains for 2020 Olympics, and to Defeat Cancer in Mom’s Memory

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by Steve Sears – 

Cecilia Barowski, originally from New Hampshire but now living in Sleepy Hollow since 2016, can often be seen with members of her running club jogging along the streets and on various tracks and park paths both in and outside the village.

She does this for a few reasons. First, she’s training for the 2020 Olympics. Second, her family suffered the loss of her mom, Mary Ann, to cancer, so she runs in the interest of good health and cancer prevention.

In November, Barowski used her running ability to raise money for the Prevent Cancer Foundation (PCF) in Alexandria, Virginia.

The (Giving Tuesday) campaign ran for two weeks, and it ended on Giving Tuesday (November 27). Barowski raised her goal of $1,000 by that date, and an additional $10 was donated via the website page kept live by the following Friday to bring her grand total to $1,010. “I was very satisfied on Tuesday to see 100%,” she said.

In 2010, when she was 17 years old, Barowski’s mom passed away at 49 after a bout with cancer. “She loved animals, and she was the one who kind of made a pact with my dad about having a lot of kids but also having a lot of dogs,” said Barowski, one of eight children. “She loved animals, she loved Irish music, she was really into our education, and going to a good four-year college was definitely a priority for all of us, and really instilled our work ethic, motivation, and passion for learning. She was an all-around great motivator for all of us.”

“I couldn’t ask for a better childhood and better foundation with her,” she added.

Barowski’s mom was not a runner, but a rooter. “She was definitely there on the sidelines, telling me to run faster. She told me, ‘Run like the wind, Seabiscuit.’ When you’re running a 55-meter dash, when you can’t hear any articulation from the crowd, I would somehow hear it.”

Barowski still hears her mom’s voice when she runs, but in a different way. “Less during races and more during long runs or recovery runs, and I’ll just talk to her in the woods. Sometimes I tell her about my life, sometimes I ask her advice. Sometimes I tell her about what’s going on with my siblings, wedding planning, races coming up, everything…as if she were away for a week and I was filling her in on what happened.”

Prevent Cancer Foundation was contacted by a representative from Athletes For, through whom Barowski initiated her fundraising endeavor. Athletes For is a campaign by Athlete Biz, a nonprofit organization that seeks to bring athletes closer to the community. Athletes For communicated with Barowski and other member athletes, asking via email which favorite charity they choose, and Athletes For would set up a funding page. Barowski sent them info about her PCF connection and Athletes For facilitated the campaign.

Prevent Cancer Foundation was founded in 1985. “I lost my father to cancer a year before I started this,” said Founder and CEO Carolyn R. (“Bo”) Aldigé. “I was just extremely interested in the prevention aspect of cancer because nobody else was really focusing on it. So, I decided if I was going to do something, it would be about detection and early prevention.”

PCF funds research, national education programs, community outreach via screening programs (particularly focusing on medically underserved populations), and advocacy. “All four areas have borne fruit. For example, we have funded many big distinguished senior scientists early in their careers,” said Aldige.

She added, “We hope she (Cecilia) is successful in her quest to become an Olympian. We are very grateful that she chose the foundation and was interested in our mission and our focus on prevention and early detection, and out of all the cancer-related nonprofit organizations, she chose us.”

Barowski, 26, is trying her best to become the runner she has the potential to be in the 600-meter indoor run. “Right now, a lot of my effort and attention is on performing very well on February 24 – that’s when the USAs start,” she said.

Barowski enjoys the community aspect of Sleepy Hollow. “The wreaths on the streetlights, the snowflakes on the streetlights, the block parties and parades – feels like a small New England town sometimes.”

Barowski’s future husband, Gregory Leeper, who along with Barowski attended and was a member of the track team at Princeton University, also lost his mom to breast cancer. “It brought us so much closer together; a deeper understanding of what each other is going through. It feels good to be there for each other,” she said.

To learn more about the Prevent Cancer Foundation, visit www.preventcancer.org.

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