Allison Donaghy is taking her fight against Lyme disease to the streets, for 57 miles to be exact.
As countless thousands prepare for the grueling 26.2 mile New York City marathon this fall, a Washington D.C. area woman has her sights set on a different goal. On November 2 she plans to run 57 miles from the Penn State track in State College, PA to the Bucknell University track in Lewisburg to raise funds for Global Lyme Alliance (GLA).
57 Miles? That distance would be an amazing accomplishment even for the most accomplished athlete. But for Allison Donaghy, who is battling late-stage Lyme disease, the challenge is even more awe-inspiring.
This will be the first 50+ mile run for Donaghy, a 2012 Bucknell alum, who was diagnosed with Lyme in 2016, after several years of searching for a medical answer to her many health issues.
She still deals with many symptoms that could have been prevented if she had been correctly diagnosed at the start, but Donaghy is not one to entertain regrets.
Donaghy, 27, was part of both the cross country and track teams during most of her years at Bucknell, decided to take on the lengthy 57 mile challenge to raise Lyme awareness. “At Bucknell,” she says, “the men’s cross-country team has a tradition of running from one campus to the other, so I am carrying on that tradition through my ultra-distance fundraising challenge.”
A life-long runner, Donaghy said that prior to being diagnosed with Lyme she had some health issues, but that trying to discover the cause was like a “wild goose chase.” She asked her then-primary care doctor for a Lyme test in 2015. But when only three of the five bands on the test came back flagged (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requires five for a Lyme diagnosis) her doctor told her she was probably just stressed. Yet her symptoms persisted and grew worse. Donaghy began losing her hair, felt extremely tired, suffered constant headaches, joint pain and digestive problems.
After several ER visits, she went to the Mayo Clinic in Florida and saw a number of doctors there, but left with no answers. She also saw gastro-intestinal doctors and was told she might have Crohn’s disease. One doctor diagnosed Donaghy with chronic gastritis. “But because I was having so many other non-digestive issues, she urged me to see another specialist, perhaps even a Lyme literate doctor,” Donaghy says. She took the doctor’s advice, found a Lyme Literate Medical Doctor and was diagnosed in short order with chronic Lyme.
“I was relieved I had an answer,” says Donaghy, a freelance writer/editor who works as an assistant manager at Pacers Running in Alexandria, Virginia, “but I wasn’t sure if the treatments would work.” She was put on four months of antibiotics and other medicines, numerous supplements and changed her diet radically.
“I feel a lot better, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have bad days,” she says. “I still deal with symptoms which could have been prevented if my initial doctor had known more about Lyme and I had been correctly diagnosed. But I feel fortunate that I am still able to run and do many things I love, compared to others who struggle with a late diagnosis of Lyme.”
On November 2, Donaghy’s plans to run and walk, stopping every five miles to make sure she has enough nutrition and hydration. She will have a crew on hand during the run to make sure she’s okay and her twin sister, a cyclist, will be riding alongside her.
“I’ve been running for as long as I can remember,” she says, “and running to raise awareness was an easy leap for me.” Nevertheless, she knows it won’t be easy. “I have no illusions that it isn’t going to hurt a lot, but I am excited about the challenge.”
Naturally, she hopes people will donate to support her fundraising effort (see link below). “Some of the stories I’ve read [about Lyme sufferers] are heartbreaking. Their lives are forever changed by the disease. These individuals are the ones who motivate me to run more than anything. I want to make a difference in the lives for those who are so much worse off than me.”
“Allison is truly a Lyme Warrior,” said GLA’s CEO Scott Santarella. “We’re deeply appreciative that she wants to raise awareness and funds that are so important in fighting this and other tick-borne diseases.”
Donaghy says she decided to advocate for GLA because “the organization’s mission to fund research and educate doctors about Lyme disease really resonated with me. I hope that the funds I raise will make a real difference in someone’s life.”