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Alzheimer’s Fundraiser for Northwestern Shares His Boston Marathon Experience

When Jason Boschan is asked why he partnered with the Northwestern University Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center (CNADC), the answer is simple:

“They are the No. 1 primary progressive aphasia (PPA) research clinic in the world,” he says.

PPA was first identified as a distinct form of dementia in the early ’80s by Marsel Mesulam, MD, director of the CNADC. The condition, a “cousin of Alzheimer’s disease,” often occurs in individuals in their 50s and 60s, an age that physicians don’t usually associate with neurodegenerative diseases.

In 2011, shortly after his grandfather was diagnosed with PPA, Boschan sought an opportunity to make a difference. The culmination of that effort seemed evident as he finished the Great Wall of China Marathon in May 2012, having raised more than $50,000.

Jason Boschan at the Boston Marathon in his Run4Papa T-shirt. He raises funds in support of the work of the Northwestern University Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center.

But a funny thing happened. As Boschan ran races to raise money and awareness, success bred opportunity. This year, he’s kept his laces tied and continues to run (300-plus miles at last count), with the season’s most exciting event taking place in June in South Africa.

We caught up with Boschan – between runs – to talk about his experiences at this year’s Boston Marathon and his preparations for the Big Five Marathon.

Can you update us on how many races you have run, and what future events you are planning to support the CNADC?

The goal of this year’s cause is to fund the first national dementia speech-therapy trial in history. I created a new video to launch this year’s campaign. This year, I have run over 10 races and logged roughly 300-plus miles (from training to actual race day). The races have been quite a variety from 5Ks to 10Ks, half marathons on The Strip at night in Vegas to the Boston Marathon. This year, I have chosen to run in scrubs and a lab coat to help bring more awareness and attention to the cause to raise dementia awareness. While it is far more challenging to run in this attire, the attention and donations being generated are worth the extra effort. Last year, I told everyone my training was going to culminate at the Great Wall of China Marathon, however, this year, I decided to not tell everyone right away what the big event would be. Instead, after each race, I provided a clue that would allow followers to guess the final destination. The final destination was revealed at the 2nd Annual Northwestern CNADC/Run4Papa fundraiser and I am going to be running the Big Five Marathon on an open animal reserve in South Africa! Only 300 runners are able to run this race a year, and I feel privileged and honored to be able to participate in this extraordinary race.

How is your ‘Papa’ doing?

My Papa is doing fair. The disease has certainly progressed from last year. While he still recognizes me when I visit him in Michigan, there is a distinct change in communication abilities. While it is very tough to handle at times, he still has a smile that would melt your heart and make you feel at ease. He was a great doctor, is a tremendous man, and the best grandfather a grandson could ask for.

What was your goal in running the Boston Marathon?

My goal was to ask people to pledge $1 per mile to run in Boston. Four-time Boston Marathon winner Bill Rodgers even endorsed the Run4Papa campaign.

What was that Monday morning like?

My mood on Monday morning was sheer excitement. I had a ton of adrenaline coursing through my veins, however, I also had a calm about me that knew what 26.2 miles ahead meant. Running any marathon is 80 percent mental, 20 percent physical, in my humble opinion. My pre-race routine was to have a delicious pasta meal the night before with chicken, plenty of bread and water. Fortunately, I arrived on Friday evening and was able to tour Boston with my good friend Adam from Friday-Sunday. My mother also flew in Sunday evening so she could be a part of the festivities on Monday. The morning of, I woke up, took a shower, ate a couple bananas and bread with peanut butter, and headed out to the buses, which drove us roughly 45 minutes to the start line in Hopkinton. I had roughly two hours before the race to pace around and mentally prepare. I took a handful of pictures and recorded 45 seconds of pre-race commentary (usually what I do before and after every race).

Boschan at the Mile 13 marker of the Boston Marathon. He would be told to stop running at mile 25.8.

As you run a marathon for this cause, what do you think about during the event?

Since I don’t run to music, I have plenty of time to think about a variety of things during the race. I feed off the energy and excitement from the crowd, which was tremendous in Boston from start to finish. People were so enthusiastic and supportive and had the most hilarious signs I have seen at a race. At various points, I think about my Papa and all the families and patients who have written me in the past. I think about the people I have met in person and how supportive they are of this cause. I think about my parents and how proud they are of their son. I think about how amazing an opportunity it was to be part of the Boston Marathon and how this was always on my bucket list. And I as I get closer and closer to the finish line, I think about taking an ice bath and how amazing that is going to feel!

Can you tell me where you were when the bombs went off and how you reacted?

Based on the information I have, I think I was roughly between Mile 22 and 24 when the bombs went off. Since I had no idea explosions were going off several miles in front of me, I continued running like everyone else. I could see mile 26 in the distance, but at Mile 25.8, I was stopped by police and told that I was not allowed to finish. The race was over and everyone had to stop running. 25.8! Initially, I was devastated. To run 25.8 out of 26.2 and be told that I had to just stop was heartbreaking. This had never happened before and I was confused. Shortly after arriving at 25.8, I heard another explosion and believe, in hindsight, it was the Boston bomb squad detonating suspicious packages in the streets. It was very scary, but perspective set in real quickly. I couldn’t reach anyone for hours because the cell towers were down. Finally, after several hours I was able to reach my parents and posted a message on Facebook that I was OK. Since public transportation was suspended (no cabs or trains), we were directed all over the city and I ended up walking two and a half hours before I was able to catch a train back to my friend’s place.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I feel so sad for all those who were killed and injured, and in the same selfish breath, I feel so fortunate and lucky that I am safe, along with my friends and family. I am a firm believer that the evil of a few will NOT outweigh the goodness of so many. Even during this horrific tragedy, the people of Boston, along with the amazing medical team, Boston Police Department, and so many others, were exceptionally calm and resilient on that day and the days following this awful attack. Although most people will remember the 2013 Boston Marathon for the brutal terrorist attack, I will also remember the joy, excitement, and fun that transpired from Mile 1 through 25.8. I have many great memories from that run, and I will forever be thankful for having the opportunity to participate in the race with the people of Boston.