Throughout her life, Deborah Jackson has always been active and never shied away from the unconventional.
She was once a sailmaker and sold windsurfing boards in Marblehead. She was a swimmer, springboard diver and field hockey player at UMass.
When she survived lymphoma 22 years ago it inspired her to push herself even harder.
“I wasn’t ready to go anywhere,” said Jackson. “I had two young kids and I wanted to stay healthy and live.”
Jackson, now 59 and serving as Salem’s chief city assessor, this past weekend pushed her physical limits even further as part of a 12-member team participating in The Jimmy Fund’s Mass Dash, a 206-mile running relay race across Massachusetts from the Berkshires to Boston.
Her first leg of the relay began at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning when she completed a 4-mile uphill run to the top of Mount Greylock in Adams, the highest point in the state. She and her teammates traded off running routes across the state following each other in two vans for 36 hours through the night often in hot, humid conditions before reaching the finish line late Sunday afternoon at the JFK Library in Boston.
“It was exhilarating,” said Jackson of the trek as she waited for her teammates at the finish line at the library yesterday.
Jackson is part of a North Shore informal women’s athletic group called the Dead Horse Beach Athletic Club, named for the Salem Willow Park beach where she and a group of friends from the Salem YMCA started in their first triathlon in 2002, said Jim Logan, Jackson’s husband and publicist who competed in the weekend relay alongside his wife.
The group of women, some who are of retirement age, train together in compete primarily in triathlons – swimming, biking and running competitions, said Logan. Of Jackson’s Mass Dash team, three are Iron Women, while seven are marathon runners, she said.
Bonnie Hallinan of Danvers, who trains and competes with Jackson and taught physical education in Salem for 35 years, took part in this weekend’s relay. Her father died of cancer in 1968 at the age of 41. Hallinan was not enthused to take on the relay challenge and volunteered to compete only if the team needed her. When she received the call last Thursday that the team was one down, she agreed to participate.
“I had some anxiety thinking about running through the night and going without sleep,” said Hallinan. “What really amazed me is that all those negatives turned into a really positive experience.”
Jackson and Hallinan’s team raised well over $1,000 for the cause. Although exhausted, they remained at the finish line festivities last night to share with the other 500 or so participants in their accomplishments.
“It’s very emotional,” said Jackson. “Everyone has been affected by cancer one way or the other.”