Fathers’ death inspires superwoman feat for cancer research

Zakia Haywood participates in the City Challenge Obstacle Race.
Zakia Haywood

A Bronx woman, whose parents are Trinidadian, has embarked on a herculean feat of running three marathons in three weeks, to raise funds for cancer research and treatment, following the death of her father.

Zakia Haywood, 44, is running three high profile long distances races, including the popular NYC Marathon to raise 10,000 dollars for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Brooklyn born Haywood has already defied a grueling terrain and persistent rain to complete her first race, the 2019 Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) 50k last Sunday.

Now, the mother of three is down to compete in the New York City Marathon on Sunday Nov. 3, before again testing her endurance a few days later when she competes in the New York Road Runners (NYRR) 60K on Nov. 17.

All three races are part of what she has branded The Project Courage Challenge, inspired by the death of her father to pancreatic cancer five years ago.

“Everyone says in life you should have a purpose and motive in order to create movement and change. I think one of the gifts I have to connect to people is running, “said Haywood, who revealed that so far, about 3000 dollars of the targeted 10,000 have been raised for the project including donations to a fund-raising page on social media.

“In order to bring awareness and to help other families not go through what I have gone through, you basically have to raise money. We have a big campaign going on to try and raise as much as we can.”

Haywood ran last Sunday’s Marine Corps ultra-Marathon in memory of her father Godfrey Feracho, who died seconds after she and her kids rushed into his room at the Mt. Hope Hospital in Trinidad after a flight from New York.

“I had to book a flight to get there. Once I got there he passed away at that moment. It was just literally a few moments, “recalled Haywood, whose kids are 15,12 and six.

“So it was almost like he was waiting for us to get there to just look at us and then he passed away.”

It is the first time Haywood is competing in marathons in the twilight of an athletics career which dates back to high school and college but went into a temporary hiatus after graduation.

Middle distance events such as the 400 metres, 800 metres and the mile were her favorites during her time at John Jay High School in Brooklyn and Colgate University.

In recent years, Zee as she is affectionately called, has also been competing in 5k and 10k races across boroughs including Brooklyn, Manhattan and Bronx.

“He (Dad) always told me about courage. So I said I will do a three-part challenge because he heard the three words that devastated his life forever when the doctor told him…’you have cancer’…said the five feet nine inch Haywood, as she reminisced on how her father inspired her cancer awareness and fund raising campaign.

“So, I picked three events that were about having courage… and that was doing three events that I have never done before”.

Haywood has been selected to represent Trinidad and Tobago as the flag bearer at the NYC Marathon Opening Ceremonies and Parade of Nations on Friday November 1, ahead of the 26.2-mile race on Sunday which takes runners , from all over the world including the Caribbean, thorough all five boroughs.

Since high school she has been a volunteer at the NYC marathon but now in her debut year she will be running alongside her coach, Hernan Lou Montes, who is competing in the event for the 28th year.

The NYC Marathon, coming on the heels of the Marine Corp 50K, is her second major effort of her fund raising project and is dedicated to five people described as ‘honored heroes.’

They include King Singh, a six-year-old Queens resident who was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, blood cancer when he was two and 59 year old Real-estate broker Elizabeth Mark who discovered she had breast cancer while preparing for the NYC Marathon in August.

The other three are a breast cancer survivor, a friend who was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and a close friend who succumbed to metastatic brain cancer.

“I am not doing it for myself. I am doing this for my dad,” Haywood told Caribbean Life, shortly after taking part in the MCM last Sunday.

“When I finished that race and I got that medal from the Marine and he said job well done. I said I just knew my dad was smiling on me.”

Zakia Haywood participates in a half-marathon race earlier this year.

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