AUGUSTA — The running sneakers, a gift from her daughter last year on Mother’s Day, were Nancy Tarr’s favorite.

“I have a really vivid memory of fitting Nancy for these shoes,” Amy Lawson told the few dozen of Tarr’s friends and family who gathered Friday night at Kennebec Valley Coaching, Lawson’s Water Street fitness center. “She said, ‘These are perfect. I’ve never been as comfortable in a pair of shoes.'”

Tarr got to wear the shoes for only a few months. She was 62 when she died in February, 114 days after she was diagnosed with stage IV esophageal cancer.

Jessica Tarr, the daughter who gave Nancy Tarr those light blue Sketchers, began organizing Miles for Mom to raise research money and awareness of esophageal cancer before her mother died. That fundraiser concluded with Friday’s ceremony and a check for $1,200 to the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care.

Hosted by Kennebec Valley Coaching, which helped Nancy Tarr get back into running with a couch-to-5-kilometer program a few years ago, Miles for Mom raised money through the $15 registration fee and donations, Jessica Tarr said.

More than 80 people from Maine and elsewhere around the country took part in Miles for Mom, which called for participants to log at least 114 miles in the month of April. The distance and the timing were intentional, Jessica Tarr said. The distance represents a mile for every day Nancy Tarr lived after her diagnosis. The timing coincides with the national push to have April declared Esophageal Cancer Awareness month.

Nancy Tarr, of Vassalboro, led a healthy, active life until she was diagnosed with cancer, and she was passionate about encouraging others to live the same way, her daughter said.

“It’s pretty incredible,” she said. “I think she would be humbled but very proud that her legacy is encouraging folks to get out there and get in those miles.”

Participants could log their miles in any number of ways, from running and walking to swimming and biking. There was an even an equation to convert weight exercises, such as squats, into a distance. Those who were unable to complete the 114 miles alone were encouraged to combine efforts with other members.

“We wanted to make it so everyone could join,” said Jessica Tarr.

Word of Miles for Mom spread over social media, such as Facebook, and through Kennebec Valley Coaching’s website.

The program ultimately drew 82 participants who in the aggregate logged more than 6,000 miles. The turnout already has Jessica Tarr thinking about next year’s Miles for Mom and ways make it even bigger.

“I was expecting like 15 or 20 people and mostly family,” she said. “When I saw the number of people, it just showed people want to join in for a good cause. Mom really touched a lot of lives.”

Nancy Tarr’s first signs of trouble were a sore back and trouble swallowing. By the time doctors confirmed her cancer, it already had spread to multiple systems in her body.

Jessica Tarr said that’s common with esophageal cancer, for which there are no tests to offer early detection. By the time symptoms appear, the cancer is usually far advanced.

Jessica Tarr said esophageal cancer is unfamiliar to most people and poorly understood by physicians, and its research is underfunded.

The cancer is also exceptionally deadly. Fewer than 50 percent of the people who contract the cancer even in the first stage live five years, Jessica Tarr said. Risk factors for esophageal cancer include acid reflux, smoking, drinking alcohol and obesity.

“She had none of the risk factors, which shows that there needs to be more research,” Jessica Tarr said. “It just shouldn’t have happened. She was supposed to grow old with Dad.”

Friday’s closing of the event finished it the way it began: with a run. A few people who took part in Miles for Mom left Kennebec Valley Coaching for a 40-minute run and walk on the Kennebec River Rail Trail. The group included several of Nancy Tarr’s family members, including her daughters and Richard Tarr, her husband of 40 years.

“I think it’s a credit to Nancy, really,” Richard Tarr said of the large turnout. “She might have been a little embarrassed, but I think she would have liked this.”

Richard Tarr said his wife loved to run because it made her feel healthy.

“She was pretty determined,” he said.

Lawson said the sport came quickly to Nancy Tarr.

“She was a totally natural runner,” Lawson said.

Those sneakers, the best pair Nancy Tarr ever owned, now hang alongside others from the beams inside Kennebec Valley Coaching. The sneakers have all been retired and put on display by runners who wore the shoes after finishing milestone races or events. Nancy Tarr’s sneakers may be retired, but her legacy continues to push people on to log their miles, Lawson said.

“There were a lot of days I wanted to be lazy,” Lawson said, “but I thought of Nancy, put my shoes on, and would just go.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4


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