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Jogs for Jill: Runs Honoring Late Cal Coxswain Net $500,000 to Combat Lung Cancer

February 21, 2014
by Martin Snapp

More than 1,200 runners, walkers, strollers and joggers are expected to gather March 16th for the fifth annual Jog For Jill, a 5-K course around UC Berkeley’s campus in honor of Jill Costello—a political economy major who died from lung cancer just a few weeks after graduating from Cal in 2010.

She has left an indelible legacy: To date, there have been 12 Jogs For Jill at various campuses throughout the country, organized by local sorority chapters or crew members who knew Jill—or knew about her—through intercollegiate competition. Over the past five years the events have raised almost $500,000 to combat lung cancer—half that figure from Berkeley alone. Last year’s Jog For Jill at Cal raised $62,000, and her friends are hoping to do even better this year.

The guest of honor, as he has been for every Jog For Jill, will be her Maltese terrier (named Jack, of course), whom she adopted in her final months of life so that her parents could have something she loved to console them.

Jill was the coxswain who led the varsity eight to victory in the Pac-10 championships and second place in the NCAA nationals just weeks before her death. She battled cancer all through her senior year, determined not to complain and not to allow the disease to rule her life. “She would go from chemo straight to practice or to class,” said her former teammate Erica Bellis. “There are not a lot of people who would do that. And when she did speak about it, she was very matter-of-fact. We all felt we couldn’t allow her to see our weakness because she needed us to be strong. But really, she was being strong for us.”

Jog For Jill is a project of Jill’s Legacy, a group Jill herself created before her death to raise funds for the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation, whose goal is to eradicate lung cancer through research, awareness, education, early detection and treatment. The organization was founded by lung cancer survivor Bonnie Addario, who, like Jill, never smoked a day in her life.

“The most staggering statistic is that the five-year survival rate for lung cancer is only 16 percent, and that has remained unchanged for more than 40 years,” says Addario. “The stigma that lung cancer is a ‘your fault’ disease has stymied awareness efforts for decades, and the disproportionately low amount of funding it receives has allowed lung cancer to remain our nation’s number one cancer killer.”

Darby Anderson, Jill’s former sorority sister in Kappa Kappa Gamma, adds, “It’s such a tough disease to beat, there aren’t a lot of survivors to become advocates, the way Lance Armstrong was for testicular cancer.”

“She knew she was representing a very underrepresented population, and she knew she had to be a role model for them,” says Bellis.

In Jill’s honor, the campus’s women’s crew has renamed the annual Big Row against Stanford the “Jill Row,” and the new varsity boat has been christened “Beat Lung Cancer.” Coach Dave O’Neill, who had asked Jill to be godmother to his son, Dash, has called her “the toughest competitor I ever coached.”

Jill Costello

The Berkeley starting gun will go off at high noon on March 16th at Kroeber Fountain (corner of College and Bancroft), and everyone is due back at the fountain by 1 p.m. for a celebration that is expected to last most of the afternoon. The celebration will feature family-friendly activities including  a kids’ dash, music and 5-K event awards. Prizes will be awarded to the top three finishers in each group, and participants will compete in both male and female age groups: overall, 15 to 34, 35 to 54, and 55 and over.

The registration fee for adults is $30 before Feb. 28 and $35 afterward. For youths and Cal students, the fee is $15 before Feb. 28 and $20 afterward. Participants who pre-register up to three weeks before the event are guaranteed a souvenir T-shirt in their size. After that, it’s first come, first served.

“Jill saw the value of every single day the way a lot of people don’t, especially after she got sick, but even before,” says Bellis. “If I have a daughter, I will name her Jill. We all will.”

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