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Quincy woman runs Boston Marathon to honor her sister

Quincy woman, others in marathon for a cause

Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Susanna Lynch takes a training run for the Marathon downtown.

Alexandria Lynch, called Allie by family and friends, never got the chance to be paired with a friend through Best Buddies, the organization Anthony Kennedy Shriver founded in 1989 to match volunteers with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

In 2007, at age 13, she died while napping on the couch at home in Quincy. She held a special place in the Lynch family - the little sister with complex developmental disabilities adopted from foster care into the waiting arms of Joseph Harry Lynch, his wife Patricia, and their five other children. She first stayed at their home at just two weeks old, and they adopted her two years later.

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Some of Allie’s siblings volunteer and fund-raise for Best Buddies. One sister, Liz Southard of Quincy, coordinated the Best Buddies program at Boston College High School until leaving to stay home with her children; another, Sheila Lynch, belonged to the Best Buddies chapter at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia before her death at age 23.

Now sister Susanna Lynch, 25, is running the Boston Marathon for Best Buddies to honor Allie.

“It’s really consoling to know that I’m trying to help an organization that she would’ve really benefited from,’’ she said.

She started training in December for the April 16 marathon, gradually increasing her mileage. On Saturdays, she joins a group of charity runners from different organizations to train on hills.

Lynch has run the marathon a few times before, but she decided she would run again only if she could do so for Best Buddies. They were happy to have her, and even happier to be accepted into the Boston Athletic Association’s official Boston Marathon charity program, which allows them 15 entries into the race, generating at least $4,000 per runner, the minimum amount each runner must raise. Best Buddies also received two entries from race sponsor John Hancock, according to Craig Welton, state director of Best Buddies.

“We’re very appreciative to have the opportunity,’’ he said.

Like the many other charities that hope to become a marathon partner, Best Buddies applied through a competitive process. It received a commitment for a three-year partnership, he said, essentially guaranteeing the organization $60,000 in each of those years, raised by athletes eager to run the marathon.

Lynch has raised more than the minimum amount, but she hopes to keep going. The Best Buddies team has a website, www.teambestbuddiesboston.org, where the public can view runners’ personal pages and donate, either with a general donation or toward an individual runner’s goal. The site shows an overall goal of $70,000 with more than $60,000 raised as of Thursday.

Boston Marathon charities raise about $10 million a year. This year’s 31 charities, listed on the Boston Athletic Association website, include the Alzheimer’s Association, Boys and Girls Clubs of Dorchester, Children’s Hospital Boston, and Mass Mentoring Partnership. Charities must have a location in Greater Boston.

Stories abound of local residents running the marathon for their favorite charity. Running for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, for example, are Debbie Burns of Duxbury, Kara O’Toole of Quincy, and Hank Wolfson of Norwell, all of whose mothers received cancer treatment, according to Dana-Farber.

Burns’s mother, Cynthia Fish, received chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She has been cancer-free for 13 years, and since her bout with cancer, she has seen the birth of seven grandchildren.

“It’s such a blessing,’’ Burns said. “The research there has changed and saved so many lives.’’

Running for her sixth consecutive marathon and third for Dana-Farber, Burns, 43, carries with her a tribute to the loved ones of supporters in and around Duxbury whose lives have been touched by cancer. On the back of her singlet, the Duxbury Middle School teacher wears ribbons bearing their names - more than 45 last year, she said.

Rebecca Pfeffer, 28, of Boston, is running for Best Buddies. Like Lynch, she has a sibling affected by a disability; her brother, Ian Pfeffer, has autism spectrum disorder. The brother and sister were a year apart in school, and she pondered with a heavy heart the divergent paths their lives would take once she left for college.

But with the help of Best Buddies, Pfeffer’s brother has a meaningful job in the mailroom of a Boston law firm, she said. He lives in an independent living residence in Brookline.

“He’s happy,’’ she said. “He loves going to work. He seems to be talking a lot more since he [started working] there.’’

In addition to pairing disabled people with volunteers for one-to-one friendships, Best Buddies runs an integrated employment program. Right now, 60 people with disabilities work for local companies in jobs facilitated by Best Buddies, the director said. The group also has 100 school-based chapters in Massachusetts middle schools, high schools, and colleges.

Lynch wishes her sister Allie could have enjoyed more of those programs. Her desire to run in Allie’s honor was inspired in part by their sister Sheila, who died 15 months before Allie, also in her sleep. Sheila was particularly close to Allie, Lynch said, and was an enthusiastic member of Best Buddies at her university.

Neither of their deaths could be definitively explained, said Lynch, who now lives in South Boston and works as director of international student outreach at Suffolk University. Allie, whose developmental disabilities didn’t fit into a neat category and became more pronounced as she grew older, may have suffered a heart problem, she said, and Sheila fell ill, possibly from exposure to bats, after doing research on plant cells in Texas caves for a master’s degree in microbiology.

“Only now, after losing my sisters, can I understand the loneliness that people with disabilities must feel,’’ she said. “I lost my two best friends.’’

Allie was a vibrant girl who participated in special-needs swimming, ballet, and soccer, and would have been enriched by the friendship and satisfying work offered by Best Buddies as she got older.

“You can see how she, and others like her, are just so social,’’ Lynch said. “But they live very isolated lives, which is such a shame.’’

She hopes to help give more people the opportunity to find a friend through Best Buddies - and plenty of people are waiting. Welton, the state director, said he has a list of more than 100 schools that would like to start a chapter.

Jennette Barnes can be reached at jennettebarnes@yahoo.com.

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