My Marathon Summer

Our Manager of Team EMPOWER reflects on three marathons in three weeks

Candace Mauck and Troy Reinhart smiling at a Team Empower event

Candace Mauck started as the new Manager of Team EMPOWER, Smile Train’s endurance athletics squad, this summer. As 2022 ended, she stopped to reflect on how starting her role with a truly breathless summer was the best introduction to Team EMPOWER that she ever could have asked for.

I started at Smile Train in June, and right away they told me that between August and September I would be traveling with Troy Reinhart, our SVP of Community & Ambassador Development, to the Berlin, London, and Chicago Marathons over the course of just three weeks. I didn’t know what to expect, not only because I was so new and already traveling so much, but also because people were still registering and there were still COVID deferrals.

Team EMPOWER’s Berlin runners celebrate at the team breakfast the day before the race
Team EMPOWER’s Berlin runners celebrate at the team breakfast the day before the race

So when I got to Berlin, I was nervous. It was my first time in the city, and I fell in love with it right away, and that did a lot to calm my nerves. It’s a beautiful city and super easy to get around in, but of course, my favorite part was meeting the runners. I got to put so many names and faces with emails!

Like when I finally met Haijun Ramoundos, who was born with a cleft and running his tenth marathon. He was incredible — he even did two more marathons in 2022, Tokyo and Boston, and now he’s retiring because he said his knees can’t do it anymore. Yeah, fair enough!

I also met the pair of brothers from New Jersey, Greg and Bryan Sobol, who were competing against each other. I still don’t know who “won,” but they both did amazing, and Greg was one of our top fundraisers. And there was John Laputz. He has a little sister with a cleft, which made him interested in Smile Train. Even after he moved from the US to Berlin, he stayed really involved with us and has been a good relationship builder for us in the city.

I needed him because our Berlin group was massive — we had 40 runners register! And they were all inspiring because not only are they a very intense group to achieve this physical accomplishment of running a marathon, but they’re also as kind and generous and selfless as you would expect from people putting in all that energy to help save children’s lives. It was obvious how deeply they all feel that impact and how meaningful it is to them to have this opportunity to use their running to make a difference.

Smile Train’s cheer section in Berlin clapping on Team EMPOWER runner Geoff Jones
Smile Train’s cheer section in Berlin clapping on Team EMPOWER runner Geoff Jones

That sense of relief and joy to be in-person again after COVID was palpable and made it particularly special. So many other marathons put up heavy barricades between the crowd and the runners, but here, there were no barriers — it was like a free-for-all! Everyone was on the ground with the runners, stopping and hugging us. Across from us, there was a family sitting on the median watching the runners with an entire table with a cheeseboard and wine — and not too far from them was a whole string band, so it was really a unique, fun experience, especially for my first marathon as Manager of Team EMPOWER!


Runners from Kenya pose with Candace and Smile Train’s Associate, PR, Julia Heymann at the Berlin Marathon
Candace; Julia Heymann, Smile Train’s Associate, PR and Social Media; and Germany-based Young Leadership Circle Board member Ankitha Sarvesh pose with Rashmi and Shirish Shah, Sunrise Runners from Kenya

But the best part is that, in the end, this big group of friends came together to raise $132,000 for Smile Train!

Candace and Troy greeting Mae Dichupa
Candace and Troy cheer on Team EMPOWER runner Mae Dichupa

From there, it was straight to London. One thing this experience taught me is that every race has a different vibe. Right away, I noticed that our London team was more chill than our Berlin team, but no less determined. A lot of our runners were there because running this marathon had been a personal goal, a bucket-list item: We had a runner from Canada, Brian Cadden, and one from the Philippines, Mae Dichupa, who also brought a friend along to cheer her on. One guy, Bryant Larson, ran Berlin and London with us back-to-back — that’s two marathons in one week! That’s so impressive! I don’t know how he did it, but he did it seamlessly.

Team EMPOWER cheer section at the London Marathon
L to R: UK cleft community members Adam and Olivia Whitbread, Angel Shakespeare, Troy, Candace, and Sarah Selby, Head of Individual Giving for Smile Train UK

Another great thing about London is that they don’t have as many rules as some of the others around banners, so we brought a huge one, plus lots of signs. Between all that and the members of our Smile Train UK team and the runners’ family members who came out, we had quite an impressive cheer zone. Which I love, because I think it’s only right that our runners have a big cheerleading squad. They deserve it.

By the time the last Team EMPOWER member crossed the finish line, this amazing team had raised $135,000 for Smile Train!

After that race, it was back to New York for two days before heading out for the Chicago Marathon. And because Troy had an event in Colombia to go to, this was my opportunity to manage an event myself. Right away, I had my first big test: We had a whole shipment of singlets and t-shirts and cowbells, and other things that I needed sent to our hotel, but the hotel couldn’t find it anywhere. Like, anywhere. I talked to five different hotel staff members and showed them my notification, but no one saw it. I called UPS, and everyone said, “We’re so sorry, we can’t help.”

So I woke up at five AM the morning of the team breakfast, after the hotel’s staff change, and asked then, and one guy found it hidden behind the coffee bar. It was so random, but we got it. Everyone got their things, and I felt like I passed my test.

Heather McCabe
Team EMPOWER runner Heather McCabe

But of course, our runners are the real heroes, and my motivation is always to be just as determined and creative in doing good as they are. Jacqueline Annino and Heather McCabe are great examples. Jacqueline runs for her three-year-old nephew who was born with a cleft, and Heather does it for her daughter, who has faced health issues her whole life. She even had her nails painted with Smile Train’s logo, which was so cool!

Heather McCabe’s nails painted with Smile Train and Chicago Marathon logos
Heather’s nails

There were also a lot of runners who are not cleft-affected themselves, but know someone with a cleft, and we even had a runner all the way from New Zealand come — he said he just really wanted to do it.

Candace with Team EMPOWER runner Jeff Salyer’s family
Candace with Team EMPOWER runner Jeff Salyer’s family

This amazing group raised $57,000 to bring smiles to children in need!

After Chicago, I went home and got a lot of sleep. But really, there is no time to rest — this job is itself a marathon, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Just a few weeks after that race, there was the New York Marathon, and we are already planning for Big Sur, an Ironman in Colombia, and 2023’s Berlin, London, Honolulu, and Chicago Marathons.

But now that I’ve had a little while to catch my breath and look back at that experience, I feel so grateful for the amazing opportunity it was. Running is very personal to me. I had Lyme disease as a teenager, and it gave me terrible joint pain. I struggled with mobility for a long time and turned to running to help me heal. I’ve never run a marathon before and haven’t gone much beyond 10k’s, but that always made those who can do it my heroes. In fact, our Team EMPOWER runners inspired me to push myself and sign up for the 2023 New York Marathon – something I never thought I’d ever be able to achieve.

Pushing my own boundaries while traveling the world to help some of the kindest, most determined, and most inspiring people I’ve ever met do good, meet their goals, and save children’s lives… this job is a dream come true.

And it’s still only my first year!

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