'Amazing' Student Inspires Teacher's Run

Mill Pond School special education teacher Ashley Orlando is training for the 2013 Boston Marathon because a Gibbons eighth-grader has leukemia.

Mill Pond School special education teacher Ashley Orlando is training for the 2013 Boston Marathon because a friend has leukemia.

Mark, 14, is an eighth-grader at the Gibbons Middle School. He also has autism.

Orlando says they worked together four years ago for about four months -- “I was a longtime sub for his 1-to-1 para” – and have kept in touch.

She now is nearly halfway toward her fundraising goal of $4,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Her home page is here.

“He’s inspired me to do what I do, to want to help, to want to do more. I can’t pass up the opportunity,” says Orlando, who will run the April 15 marathon with Team in Training.

“Hearing about this, you just feel so helpless: what can I do? I want to be there. I want to help. “

Mark was diagnosed with leukemia on Oct. 29, and has been receiving chemotherapy, Orlando says.

“He was admitted right away, and they started treatment right away,” she says.

“I see him all the time now, because he’s right at UMass. I’m there at least twice a week.”

Mark’s nurses are “all doing a great job, because they’ve fallen in love with him,” Orlando says.

“The way he’s handling it is incredible,” she says.

“And his spirits are just so high. He’s taking what they’ve thrown at him. He’s comforting us.”

Orlando calls Mark “just an amazing, amazing kid. He has limited communication, which he makes up for in just his heart and his ability to connect with you on other levels.”

“While his language is limited, he does understand, and he is actually an incredibly fast learner at things. He has such a personality. He’s just an amazing boy,” she says.

“He makes these strides that are just amazing, that just make you so happy. When you’re with Mark, he’s happy, you’re happy.”

Orlando says the 2013 Boston Marathon will be her second.

She ran Boston in 2009 without a number.

She says she joined Team in Training after seeing it at other races.

She hopes Mark can root for her on April 15.

“I think that if he’s in a good place, definitely,” Orlando says.

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