Cutchogue trainer running half marathon in honor of client battling lung cancer

Jill Schroeder and Ellen Wiederlight meet twice a week in Ms. Schroeder’s personal training studio in Cutchogue, where they are preparing to face two very different challenges.

Ms. Schroeder, who trains clients one-on-one since closing her JABS group workout space in Cutchogue, is gearing up for her first half marathon, the United Airlines New York City Half Marathon on March 19. As part of her participation in the race, she is fundraising for the Lung Cancer Research Foundation and already has raised $4,138, approximately 83% of her $5,000 goal.

Ms. Wiederlight, a Southold native and the former owner of the Sound View Inn, has been battling stage 4 lung cancer for eight years, during which time she has endured numerous chemotherapy treatments and joined networking groups of patients diagnosed with lung cancer. In addition to training for an hour twice a week with Ms. Schroeder, her weekly regime will soon include trips to Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where she will participate in a new medical trial involving an experimental antibody treatment that binds to receptors on specific types of cells and is linked to a drug which attacks cancer cells without harming healthy cells.

“I’m hoping to be able to knock the cancer back down and make it stable again for another eight months to a year,” Ms. Wiederlight said. “I keep trying to live long enough that research will catch up with me, and that’s why research is so important.”

Ms. Schroeder hopes her fundraising effort will support lung cancer research, which is critical for developing not only cancer treatments, but also methods of early detection that can save lives. Ms. Wiederlight understands the importance of early detection firsthand. She was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in 2004 thanks to a mammogram, and was completely cured of the disease later that same year.

Similar preventative screenings for lung cancer are now available thanks to research. In recent years, the American Cancer Society began recommending low-dose CT screenings for people at a higher risk of lung cancer, which are superior to standard chest x-rays for early detection. 

“I want people to listen to their bodies,” Ms. Wiederlight said. “And go get checked up early.”

She also wants to raise awareness of the imbalance in research funding for different types of cancers. Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Every year, it claims more lives than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. The National Cancer Institute, the federal government’s principal agency for cancer research, reported that an estimated $514.7 million was allocated for breast cancer research while $403.2 million went to lung cancer research in 2020, the most recent year for which data is available.

Ellen Wiederlight of Southold was diagnosed with lung cancer eight years ago. (Credit: Nicholas Grasso)

Ms. Wiederlight believes this is partly due to the stigma correlating lung cancer with smoking cigarettes, which she hopes will become a thing of the past.

“When I say I have lung cancer, people ask ‘did you smoke?'” she said. “You don’t have to smoke to have lung cancer, you just have to have lungs.”

Training day

Since they met about a year and a half ago, Ms. Wiederlight  has trained with Ms. Schroeder for an hour a day, twice a week. Ms. Wiederlight’s full-body workout consists of cardio on a treadmill, followed by multiple reps using arm and leg bands, weights and workout balls, all of which she has access to at home to stay active every day. 

“Working out with Jill has been a lifesaver for me,” she said. “Even though the cancer’s getting worse, I’m feeling better because of coming here.”

Ms. Wiederlight’s efforts have garnered positive results. On Thursday, she walked a half mile on the treadmill in 18 minutes and 19 seconds. When she started her training, she could only walk a fifth of a mile before running out of breath.

“That’s why she’s my inspiration,” Ms. Schroeder said. “She’s making the effort, she’s doing the work and she’s making progress. Being in this field, I have seen so many people who have excuses, they don’t want to do this or that, she always shows up and does the work.”

Jill Schroeder and Ellen Wiederlight at a recent training session. (Credit: Nicholas Grasso)

When she is not training Ms. Wiederlight or her other clients, Ms. Schroeder is doing a lot of running to achieve her goal of finishing the half marathon within 2 hours and 15 minutes. Although this is her first 13.1-mile run, she has completed several 5K and 10K races in the past, through which she said she has raised over $250,000 for local and national charities.

In preparing for her longest race to date, Ms. Schroeder has been coming up with more ways to raise funds for lung cancer research, including sponsoring a two week half marathon challenge, where participants donate $25 and pledge to run or walk 13.1 miles ahead of March 19 when Ms. Schroeder runs the New York City race.

Ms. Wiederlight is rising to that two-week challenge as well, whether she’s walking on the treadmill at Ms. Schroeder’s studio or taking laps around her house. As she gets her steps in, her lifestyle is slowly returning to normal.

“I feel like I can start doing stuff,” Ms. Wiederlight said. “I actually went shoe shopping over the winter. Anybody with this stage of lung cancer usually resigns to sitting at home, waiting for that knock on the door. But I’m not doing that.”

Anyone interested in donating to Ms. Schroeder’s fundraiser for the Lung Cancer Research Foundation can visit this website.