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Runner Crosses Oceans and Finish Lines to Fundraise for ALS Research

Defne Sadalak (left) and Dr. Hande Ozdinler

Support Defne Sadalak's A Long Swim Fundraiser


October 20, 2023

When Defne Sadalak crossed the Chicago Marathon finish line in early October, she had even more to celebrate than the impressive feat of human endurance that she had accomplished.

Defne raised more than $2,000 to support vital amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) research—and a longtime friend—at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Defne attended high school in Turkey with Hande Ozdinler, PhD, an associate professor in the Ken and Ruth Davee Department of Neurology and prominent ALS scientist. The friends kept in touch, and during a recent exchange, Dr. Ozdinler suggested that Defne could support ALS research through one of her races.

“When Hande heard that I run marathons, she mentioned A Long Swim, and I was delighted that there might be some way I could raise money for her,” Defne said.

Defne then became a sponsored athlete at the Chicago Marathon for A Long Swim, a Chicago-based nonprofit that fundraises for ALS projects at Feinberg. She flew to the U.S. from Bath, England, to run the marathon in support of the Ozdinler lab, for which she has so far raised $2,370. She plans to run the six World Marathon Majors—in Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York City—and with her completion of the Chicago race, she has only three to go.

A Long Swim provides annual support to upper motor neuron research by the Ozdinler Lab. The nonprofit is led by Doug McConnell, who established it with his sister, Ellen Blakeman, after their father passed away from ALS. Today, their fundraising primarily supports a research fellowship in memory of Ellen, after she, too, passed away from the disease. Since its founding in 2011, A Long Swim has raised almost $2 million for ALS research.

“We were thrilled that such a lifelong friend of Hande's would do such a gracious thing,” McConnell said. “Although, knowing how Hande befriends someone, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised.”

Defne has placed great emphasis on health throughout her life, running for sport while in high school and now working in clinical healthcare support in England. As a parent to two teenage daughters, she is proud to share her love of running with her girls. Now, with the added element of philanthropy, she is excited to instill this sense of purpose that they can share together.

"It's a legacy," Defne said. "How lucky am I?”

About the same time Defne was preparing for the marathon, the Ozdinler Lab won the Upper Motor Neuron Research Award at the Northeast Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Consortium (NEALS). Defne's fundraising with A Long Swim will help further this crucial research.

“I am ever so grateful for Defne running 26.2 miles for our lab and for our research. I feel blessed,” Dr. Ozdinler said. “Defne is a gem and such an amazing friend. I am forever thankful for our friendship."