Running as therapy: UMass students raise $10K for charity through NYC Marathon

Best friends Giulia Salvucci and Ruby Donnelly, UMass students, will run in the New York City Marathon on Sunday. The duo have raised $10,000 for the charity Robin Hood.

Best friends Giulia Salvucci and Ruby Donnelly, UMass students, will run in the New York City Marathon on Sunday. The duo have raised $10,000 for the charity Robin Hood. Submitted photo

Published: 11-03-2023 5:07 PM

AMHERST — Giulia Salvucci hated running “with a burning passion” two years ago, but this weekend, she is slated to run the New York City Marathon. What changed?

Salvucci befriended Ruby Donnelly, a fellow student at the University of Massachusetts and longtime runner who helped her fall in love with the sport while they trained together.

“It was just awesome running with my best friend, that’s such a big part of it for me,” Salvucci said. “Once your body adapts to the distance, it almost becomes fun, and it almost becomes a necessity… we would wake up in the morning and be like, I need to run to feel OK.”

After running hundreds of miles side by side, the UMass students signed up to run the New York City Marathon in support of Robin Hood, a charity organization that funds more than 250 nonprofits providing food, housing and other services to families living in poverty, their website says.

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The two UMass students have already raised more than $10,000 for the organization, exceeding their goal through the support of friends, family and UMass faculty who contributed to their fundraising campaign. Over the summer, they raised money at a block party they hosted in Donnelly’s hometown of Arlington, and Donnelly hit her $5,000 fundraising goal during the event.

“That was kind of a surreal moment because I was surrounded by the people that had supported me,” said Donnelly, who recalled feeling “overwhelming gratitude” for their contributions.

Salvucci reached her goal on Thursday, thanks to a $150 contribution from her education professor that pushed her over the edge.

“I literally started welling up,” said Salvucci, who was having a meal in the UMass Campus Center when she received the donation. “I wasn’t entirely convinced that it would happen.”

Self-doubt is an obstacle Salvucci often confronts while she runs. The UMass junior once thought she could never run more than three or four miles at a time, and even once she reached longer distances, she developed a hip injury in the spring that shook her confidence.

“All of a sudden, I had this deep ache in my hip,” Salvucci recalled. “It hurt to walk on it, it was throbbing while I was sleeping.”

Salvucci sat out on a half marathon in June she and Donnelly had spent months training for and let her injury heal. When she returned to training months later, her hip felt fine sometimes, but other runs took a heavy toll on her body. At the beginning of October, she completed an 18-mile run that left her hip “messed up.” The running coach Robin Hood connected her with suggested she stop running until the day of the marathon.

“It’s like this war in my head because I’m telling myself I can’t do it, but I can, it’s just that I can’t do it as fast as I did it in the spring because my hip is giving out,” Salvucci said. “There is a small part of me that’s like, oh my god, am I gonna be able to finish this? What if my hip starts hurting? What do I do? But I’m hoping that with all the adrenaline and the crowds and the cheering and also just my energy that I bring to it, hopefully that I do make it through.”

Salvucci said she has endured personal loss this year that put her injury into perspective.

“This was the one thing that I really wanted to go right this year, and so much about it kind of went wrong, but at the same time, it forced me to persevere through that mentally and physically,” she said.

Donnelly also lost people close to her this year, and running — particularly with Salvucci — helped her regain a sense of self.

“We were like, ‘We need to do something for us in terms of resilience and getting through this and finding out who we are outside of these losses,’” Donnelly said.

Donnelly said she has made a sister in Salvucci or “Giu,” as she calls her.

“Running is such a personal thing, and we’re doing it together,” Donnelly said. “My friendship with Giu, and my friendship with my friends at college… they are like my family.”

She anticipates the day of the race will be tear-filled, especially with her mom, brother and other friends from UMass there to cheer her on.

“On the day of races it’s just the most beautiful, emotional thing ever,” Salvucci said. “Running is in general just maybe one of the happiest sports ever.”