By Eli Ruiz
KIAMESHA LAKE Jennifer Beasley of Kiamesha Lake grew up your typical California girl.
A surfer since age 12, Beasley’s first order of the day growing up was “finding the beach with the biggest waves,” she said.
From Harbor Beach to Breakwater Way, and from Pier-View South to Wisconsin Street Beach, Beasley had no shortage of good surf to pick from during the long summer months spent in the coastal city of Oceanside, Calif. where she grew up.
“I had two loving parents, my best friend Rhesa, the best sister in the world, and all the coastline a girl could ask for,” she said.
Things changed for Beasley in 1995, when her best friend Rhesa died after an eight-year battle with Hodgkin's lymphoma a rare form of cancer of the body’s lymphatic system.
Beasley’s life quickly spiraled out of control and she soon found herself trapped in the dark world of addiction.
“I lost my best friend in the whole world, I was18 and I didn’t deal with the loss well at all,” Beasley explained. “I’m not making excuses for my decisions, but I guess I chose to deal with it by self-medicating. That was just how I chose to numb my pain I guess.”
Six years later, Beasley lost her cousin, Lacy, to cancer and things got even worse.
“By then I’d had it,” she said. “I thought I was destined to lose anyone I’ve ever cared for to cancer. I just stopped caring about myself and became very self-destructive.”
Amazingly in 2005 Beasley’s sister Tara was diagnosed with Medulloblastoma, a highly malignant primary brain tumor originating in the cerebellum or posterior fossa regions of the brain.
By then Beasley had lost touch with her sister.
“I wasn't really a part of her life because at the time I was caught in this cycle where I'd get clean for a time and then relapse and then do it all over again,” Beasley said. “I was so ashamed of myself that I just hid from the people that cared for me.”
By 2009, Beasley said she “just hit my bottom. I knew something had to change, but I was so messed up, I didn’t even know where to begin.”
That same year Beasley traveled with a friend to Sullivan County and ended up at the Recovery Center in Monticello.
“It was the best thing that could have happened to me,” Beasley explained. “I was going through withdrawals from the drugs and I was very sick. The time I spent at the Recovery Center really opened my eyes and I realized there was so much more to life, and all I was doing was wasting mine.”
After Beasley completed her treatment she decided that she would focus on her sobriety and getting fit and healthy.
“I started running, just a mile, sometimes two in the mornings, and I changed my diet,” she said. “I just wanted to get healthy again.”
Soon Beasley would meet “her angel,” Seymour Pierce of Kiamesha Lake, and by 2010, they had developed a relationship.
“He kept me completely focused on my sobriety and helped me put my life back together,” Beasley commented. “A few weeks later I got a call from [my sister] Tara asking me if I could be tested to see if I would be compatible as a donor for a stem-cell transplant.
“I was crushed,” Beasley added.
As it turns out, the same chemo and radiation therapy that rid Tara of her brain tumor had caused her to develop another form of cancer called Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) formerly known as pre-leukemia. MDS is a condition that involves the ineffective production, or dysplasia, of the myeloid class of blood cells originating in the bone marrow.
Beasley was not a match for the procedure, but Tara opted to move forward with the transplant once a match was found.
Unfortunately, Tara’s body rejected the transplant and on Dec. 20, 2011 she lost her long fight with cancer with her sister Jennifer by her side.
“I’m still here to fight it though, I fight cancer through my running,” Beasley said. “Before she died, my sister asked me to never give up on my passion for running. She said, ‘If there are days you can’t do it for you, on those days, do it for me.’”
Beasley’s first official race was the 2011 Rhulen Rock Hill Run and Ramble to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
“Tara was still fighting the cancer when I heard of this race,” Beasley explained. “So I decided I was going to run and dedicate the race to her.”
Beasley says that after that first race, she became “hooked” on running.
“It really clears my mind, relaxes me and makes me feel just great not just physically but mentally as well," she said.
In August 2011, Beasley discovered the Sullivan Striders Running and Walking Club.
“That group of people has become the very best of my friends,” Beasley said. “They let me into their group with open arms and no questions asked. I couldn’t have met a better group of people than the Striders.”
In March, Beasley ran her second half-marathon, the Celebrate Life Half-Marathon in Rock Hill. She raised $1,700 with the fundraising site Crowd Rise for the Celebrate Life foundation.
Never one to relax, Beasley competed in two 5K races last weekend. First she ran in the Donate-Life 5K, an event to raise awareness in the need for bone marrow donors.
After competing in the Donate-Life 5K at Riverside Park in New York City on Saturday, Beasley ran in the Spring Fling 5K at Liberty High School on Sunday. That race benefitted the Make a Wish Foundation.
Beasley placed second in the women’s division at the Spring Fling 5K, running with her “best friend,” Molly-Capri, an Australian Shepherd Pit Bull mix.
In April, Beasley signed up with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society “Team in Training” and as long as she can raise $3,200, Beasley will be flown to San Francisco, Calif. to run in the Nike Women’s Marathon to be held on Oct. 14.
"My first ever marathon! Beasley said excitedly.
Beasley has lofty goals for the event.
“I plan to raise a lot more than just $3,200,” she said. “I’ve completely dedicated myself to this one and my sister’s memory keeps my very motivated to keep pushing myself further and further.
“She changed my life in a very profound way,” Beasley continued. “I went from being a soulless individual with no sprit at all to being the complete opposite of that. She motivated me to never give up on my passions, to strive toward my goals and to focus on the big picture.
Beasley's list of people she’d like to thank for assisting her includes her fiancé Seymour Pierce, and Sullivan Striders members Dennis Toscano, Kim Klemen and Myriam Loor.
“Without the help and support of all these wonderful people, I don’t think I’d be here today talking to you,” she said.
Beasley has set up a web-page called “Running for Tara, My Shining Star,” to help her raise money for her cause.
To donate to Beasley's cause and to get her to San Francisco in October, go to pages.teamintraining.org/wch/nike12/shiningstar
To learn more about the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and its programs and initiatives, go to www.lls.org.