Davina McNaney is racing to find a cure for breast cancer – and she’s racked up quite a few miles in the process.
A mother of two, McNaney, 44, is a breast cancer survivor and lifelong marathoner using her love for running to raise money for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
On Saturday, McNaney ran 62 miles in 14 hours on a trail loop race in Brookline, New Hampshire, to raise money for research. This year alone, she’s run a total of 1,357 miles and raised $4,742 through donations from fans who follow her story.
“My running gives purpose to a cause that is important to me,” McNaney tells PEOPLE. “I didn’t like when people looked at me like I was sick or weak when I was diagnosed, so I decided to do something about it.”
But, McNaney is no newbie to endurance races – she started running long distance when she turned 30.
“So much so that it became a part of who I was, I ran anywhere from 4 to 7 days a week,” she says. “It became a part of my daily routine like showering or eating.”
So, when she was diagnosed with DCIS, or ductal carcinoma in situ breast cancer, in December 2012 at the age of 40, McNaney was “absolutely devastated.”
“It’s so frustrating to be limited and not in control of your health,” she says.
Because her cancer was caught early, McNaney was given options as to how to proceed.
“I could do nothing and watch it and see how it progressed or I could get a mastectomy,” she says. “I chose to get a double mastectomy with reconstructive surgery, because breast cancer runs in my family.”
Three months after surgery, the mother started running again — first in a 5K and then in the Detroit half-marathon. And, eventually she got back to full marathons.
“Someone said you should bring awareness to breast cancer with your running, use it for a purpose,” McNaney recalls. “And I remember feeling angry, because I didn’t choose to have breast cancer, I didn’t want to wave a cancer pride flag. I didn’t want to emerge as a breast cancer survivor because I didn’t choose to wear that hat. It was forced upon me.
“I just wanted to forget about my cancer and move on.”
But she couldn’t.
“I’d wake up in the middle of the night and think about the people who weren’t getting mammograms,” she says. “I had a nagging feeling that I could encourage people and inspire people and raise money and I literally woke up one morning and I was like I have to do something and it’s going to be a really big run.”
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In 2014, McNaney began training for a 470-mile solo run from her Pinckney, Michigan, to her hometown of Sodus Point, New York. She raised over $23,000 for the Breast Cancer Research foundation by setting up a fundraising page online.
“My kids were waiting for me at the finish line,” she says of daughters Nadja, 6, and Sasha, 9. “It was the most amazing feeling to finish that incredible journey.”
McNaney had been prepping for her 62-mile Ghost Train Trail loop run this weekend (which she finished in 14 hours and 24 minutes!) for the last six months.
“I did a 50K at the beginning of the year and ran other smaller half marathons,” she explains. “In August, I did a 50K and in September I did a 50 mile run.”
She adds, “Cancer really wipes everything out of you and you feel like you’ve been hit with a sledge hammer. So it was important to me to get back to the person I was before and to bring awareness.”
Donations to McNaney and to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation can be made here.