04/25/2012 06:57 pm ET Updated Jun 25, 2012

Perspiration With a Purpose

Anyone who knows me knows that I am huge sports fan. Basketball has always been my favorite, whether it's cheering on the UCONN Huskies, heading to an NBA game, or coaching my son's team, the sport, and the ability of those who play it, has always enthralled me. I have often wondered what drives athletes, other than pure ability, to make that shot at the buzzer or go the extra distance. Sure, we can say that professional athletes are paid, but what about those of us who are in it for something else altogether? For me, I found the answer a few years ago when I decided to spend less time on the basketball court and instead challenge myself to running marathons. Among the reasons for this was the fact that I had recently suffered a catastrophic knee injury and my doctors told me to give up sports. So in my mind, I thought marathons seemed like such a great way to prove to them (and everyone else!) that I could still be an athlete. I was reminded of this answer last week when I heard a story from the Boston Marathon that struck a chord.

The story went something like this: a man plans on running the Boston Marathon to bring awareness to a cause close to his heart, but before he can, he is diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. He thinks he might still do it, but during his recovery from a stem cell transplant, realizes it's just not possible. Instead, he calls on a close friend to run the marathon for him (can you imagine your friend calling you and asking you to run an entire marathon?!) -- and here's the inspiring part, his friend says yes!

Does this story sound familiar yet? It should, as the two friends behind the story happen to be reality television stars Ethan Zohn of Survivor fame and Ryan Sutter from the Bachelorette series. In November of 2011, Ethan participated in the New York City Marathon, but his body simply wouldn't allow him to run in Boston to support the charity he co-founded, Grassroot Soccer, which works to mobilize the global soccer community to combat the AIDS epidemic in Africa. So, Ryan literally stepped in, stepped up and completed the marathon in 3:36:02! There are hundreds, if not thousands, of athletes doing things just like this for their friends, family members and in remembrance of those they've lost.

A few years ago, Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation created a program that gave our supporters an outlet to do things just like Zohn and Sutter. Many people who have faced childhood cancer head on participate in our Team Lemon program, utilizing it as an outlet to continue their fight while pushing their own physical limits. Just one example, a group of friends from Pleasantville, Saegertown, Pittsburgh, and Downingtown, PA who are preparing to run in the Pittsburgh Half Marathon on May 6, 2012. The team will challenge themselves in honor of childhood cancer survivors Everett Van Dyke and Matthew Concannon, as well as young Matthew Myers, who is currently battling cancer. Or, how about those who have no personal connection to childhood cancer, but choose to take on athletic feats they never thought possible in the name of making a difference. These athletes are courageous, determined and inspiring!

Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation is just one of the many charities who have athletic programs like this, which allow supporters to get fit and fundraise too.

So then, what is it that drives athletes to go the extra distance? Often it is amazing determination, but I think it's also the inspiration of others, and knowing that each step they take can make a difference in the lives of those in need. Whether it's stepping in to do a race that a friend can't, honoring the memory of a loved one, or raising funds for those who need it, athletes of all calibers can make a difference.