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Running with a purpose

Calculating the capabilities of a loving grandfather or a 4-year-old girl may not be difficult for many.

But for Peter Groh, it is an immeasurable task. Words and numbers can't fully capture the inspiration he gains from Jerry Miller or Meaghan Lewandowski.

Miller is Groh's father-in-law, his best friend and "the world's greatest Grandpa." Lewandowski is a heart-melting child who Groh met just this year.

The two inspire Groh, an avid road racer, to challenge the sweltering heat of a Florida afternoon, to stay on the stairmaster an extra 15 minutes, to keep swimming when his arms and legs are begging him to stop.

Groh cross-trains to prepare himself for next week's San Francisco Marathon. He runs in honor of Miller and Lewandowski, who both have leukemia.

As a proud member of Cure 2000 Team in Training, Groh, 40, is part of a group raising money for the Suncoast Chapter of the Leukemia Society of America. The chapter has enlisted about 20 runners to train together for either the San Francisco or New York City Marathon in November. Former USF distance runners Jon Dennis and Dror Vaknin have worked closely with the group.

Groh and several other Tampa Bay runners will see the sights of San Francisco while pacing through the course. But when Groh's legs get tired, he'll see Jerry and he'll see Meaghan.

"In the last 6-8 miles, my legs will start to bother me, but it's nothing like the pain kids with leukemia deal with," Groh said. "What one man endures in a marathon can't compare to what their fight is.

"It helps me focus and it gives a lot more purpose and meaning to my training and workouts."

Particularly inspiring are the stories about what leukemia patients must endure. Through his involvement with the Cure 2000 Team in Training, Groh learned about the chemotherapy treatments Meaghan must handle, and was empathetic because he has two daughters of his own: Brittany (12) and Kaci (9).

Discovering that Meaghan must receive a painful spinal tap every 12 weeks really touched Groh's heart.

"Meaghan's mother said she finds their entire lives revolving around those spinal taps," said Groh, who first met the Lewandowskis in their Brandon home. "I cried all the way home.

"I'm a Christian and I asked the Lord why do things like that have to happen. But that's something people like me and you can't rationalize."

Meaghan has gone through chemotherapy for more than two years but has displayed remarkable courage. She gets a shot in her leg every week, but doesn't cry. She takes chemo pills without a fuss and she rarely complains about her spinal tap.

"Don't get me wrong, it was hard at first," said Shurla Lewandowski, Meaghan's mother. "But as she got used to it and her body got used to it, she's learned to take it.

"Her being so strong has really helped the whole family be strong."

This is the third time someone has run in Meaghan's honor. Shurla said Meaghan likes to watch television and look for "my runner."

"I'm really happy," Meaghan said when asked how she felt about Peter's efforts.

When she's not watching road races, she plays with her 7-year-old sister, Brittany. They often play nurse and doctor with their dolls, giving them shots and spinal taps. The Lion King is her favorite movie and Nala is her favorite character.

Shurla Lewandowski said early next year Meaghan will have completed her chemotherapy and doctors will pay close attention in the first six months, which is the most critical period.

Groh has high hopes for Meaghan because he has first-hand knowledge about the effectiveness of treating leukemia from his father-in-law.

Jerry Miller, a longtime employee of Pabst Blue Ribbon in Milwaukee, is enjoying fishing, dart balls and sports after enduring chemotherapy. Doctors say his leukemia is in remission.

"To know the fund-raising efforts can help save someone like him, to know going in it helps people is great," Groh said.

Groh is hoping to raise $5,000 in the name of Jerry and Meaghan. Donations, payable to the Leukemia Society of America, can be sent to Peter Groh, 5325 Northdale Blvd., Tampa, FL 33624.