Three friends push dying runner in a marathon, helping her finish her race strong

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY)  — This weekend, three Wilmington women are helping their Philadelphia friend, Diane Berberian finish strong, both in a race and in life.

Berberian may be legally blind with terminal bone cancer, but the word quit has never been in the 63-year-old marathoner’s vocabulary. So when her cancer came back a third time, she decided it wouldn’t stop her from racing.

“I guess the answer would be why not? If I’m given another day, I just think I’m doing everything I want to do,” Berberian explained, smiling.

The Pennsylvania native has run countless marathons since 1985, but Sunday’s Philadelphia Marathon will be different. Instead of running 26.2 miles, she’ll roll it. Her best friends will push her to the finish line.

“As runners, they’re sole sisters, s-o-l-e,” she explained. “But in reality, they’re also my sisters.”

The Wilmington women have been friends for years. In September, when Berberian attempted a half marathon and collapsed feet from the finish line, the sole sisters decided to gift their friend one final race.

“Honestly, the only reason we’re out there is to spend one more day with Diane,” said Maleia Tumolo, Berberian’s best friend and coach. “We don’t care how long it takes. We don’t care how many people it takes. We just want to be on a course again. We just want to be next to Diane again. So, I’m willing to take whatever pain comes at me for her.”

Berberian sees Sunday’s finish line as more than just an end to one race.

“This is my last race, metaphorically and physically,” she said. “I likened it to the idea of being here while we’re spreading my ashes. I’m just spreading my spirit.”

“I don’t want Diane to spread her ashes,” Tomolo responded through tears, “but I’m definitely excited to be apart of it.”

Tumolo has been Diane’s eyes for years, guiding her through miles of turns and obstacles, sometimes physically tethered together. She secretly planned to let Diane finish on her own, not knowing Diane secretly hoped the same.

“And I don’t want to take away from everybody else, but given the space, I’d like them to let me out of the chair and let my feet cross the finish line,” said Berberian.

That’s not the only race Berberian will participate in this weekend. More than 20 family members and friends will push her in Saturday’s 8k and half marathon.

And Sunday, three friends, bound to Diane in the past by tethers, a love of racing, and a love for their friend, will roll Berberian 26.2 miles, helping her finish her race strong.

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