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NMSU Professor Runs To Help Colleague Get Healthy

LAS CRUCES - Most people who run a marathon lace up those sleek running shoes for a lot of personal reasons. Ereney Hadjigeorgalis, an assistant professor in New Mexico State University's agricultural economics and agricultural business department, is taking on San Diego's grueling 26.2-mile Rock 'n' Roll Marathon June 5 for someone else.

Ereney Hadjigeorgalis, an assistant professor in New Mexico State University's agricultural economics and agricultural business department, will run the June 5 Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in San Diego to help raise funds for a university colleague battling leukemia. (05/27/2005) (NMSU Agricultural Communications Photo by J. Victor Espinoza)

That someone is Laurie Abbott, a colleague in NMSU's College of Agriculture and Home Economics who is battling leukemia.

Hadjigeorgalis, 39, is part of a national trend of athletes who combine fitness and fund raising for a cause. In this case, she decided to get involved with her local chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training.

In exchange for a commitment to train for an endurance race and to collect a designated amount of funds for the society, the program provides coaching, race travel and accommodations, entry fees and more to each participant.

Hadjigeorgalis was inspired by Abbott, an NMSU assistant professor of range science. "Everyone runs in honor of someone, and the person I wanted to run for was Laurie," she said.

Something about the reason for running clicked with Hadjigeorgalis more than the running itself. "If the reason for doing this was just to run a marathon, I don't think I would ever have done it," she said.

Hadjigeorgalis was a casual runner covering three to five miles at a stretch more than five years ago before she decided to get involved in her latest athletic challenge. "I was pretty much sedentary when I started in January," she said with a laugh.

From an initial three-mile run on Jan. 22, Hadjigeorgalis' training regime blossomed into a five-day-a-week schedule of gym workouts and progressively longer runs, ending with a 20-mile weekend run.

"It's amazing how quickly your body comes up to speed," she said. Another factor in her favor was the support of her husband, Javier Fajardo, her daughter, Charlotte, 4, and son, Benjamin, 1.

To raise funds, Hadjigeorgalis turned to friends, family and fellow faculty members for support. "I contacted everybody that I could possibly think of," she said.

Since January, Hadjigeorgalis has raised more than $3,200. Her goal is $5,000 by July 1. Those wishing to donate can do so on line at http://www.active.com/donate/tntnmep/ereney.

Seventy-five percent of the money each athlete raises goes directly to cancer research; the other 25 percent covers Leukemia and Lymphoma Society administration, along with some of the athlete's travel and expenses.

Abbott is currently undergoing medical care in Seattle. An ecologist who joined NMSU in 2000, she is known statewide for her research on invasive rangeland weeds, particularly African rue.

Abbott is also known to roam NMSU's sprawling Chihuahuan Desert Rangeland Research Center 20 miles north of the main campus. Often seen with students in tow, she's used the rangeland to teach the fundamentals of sampling and statistical analysis, along with methods for measuring vegetation cover, density and forage production.

Hadjigeorgalis' endurance test will come June 5. San Diego's Rock 'n' Roll Marathon, limited to 20,000 entries, winds from Balboa Park to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot and passes a number of San Diego landmarks along the way.

While Hadjigeorgalis has enjoyed the race preparation, she looks forward to getting back to a less rigorous schedule. "I've actually become quite addicted to the running, but I don't know if there are any more marathons in my future," she said.