Point Loma educator preps for next marathon as she honors mother struggling with dementia
Maureen Cardosa’s fundraising campaign supports Alzheimer’s research at the University of Washington.
Maureen Cardosa hadn’t run a marathon in 13 years. But for her mother, she’d do anything.
In June 2001, the Point Loma resident competed in her first 26-mile race — the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon — at age 37. Over the next few years, she ran that race again, along with the 2002 edition of the San Diego Marathon (now called the Carlsbad Marathon). In all of those races, Cardosa raised money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society as part of its Team in Training program.
Cardosa, director of pre-kindergarten at Warren-Walker School, took a break from marathons — until a family crisis inspired her to return to the course.
Twenty years ago, Cardosa’s mother, Rosie Gaither, started showing signs of dementia in her early 60s. As Gaither’s condition worsened, Cardosa witnessed firsthand how devastating the disease is and the toll it takes on individuals and their families.
“My mom was a hard-working lady and the life of the party. Everybody loved her,” said Cardosa, who added that Gaither dedicated her life to helping others as a registered nurse and through volunteer work.
Gaither, 85, now lives in a care center in Phoenix and is unable to communicate verbally. Cardosa said watching her mother suffer the past 20 years has been a frightening experience.
“You just watch your loved one slowly go away from you,” Cardosa said.
So after a 13-year hiatus from marathons, Cardosa laced up her running shoes again — this time to raise funds for the nonprofit Alzheimer’s San Diego. In 2016, she ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon and raised $4,106.
More money was raised through a bake sale at Warren-Walker School. Kris Iacono, dean of the private school who has worked alongside Cardosa for years, said Cardosa is beloved by the staff, students and families.
“[Cardosa] brings all of her heart with her into her job, whether it be teaching or serving as a director,” Iacono said. “She’s very much in touch with what I would call the human component of being a director.
“She’s a really good human with a big heart and is very passionate about what she does. ... She’s one of those people who cares a lot ... she’s just that kind of person.”
The support Cardosa received from that marathon motivated her to train for another race some 5,000 miles away. She has wanted to run the Dublin Marathon in Ireland since her first race, noting that she got her passport the day after the 2001 Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon.
“This has been a dream for a long time. ... My mom’s Irish, so I thought, ‘That would be an amazing place to do this,’” Cardosa said. She saw the Dublin Marathon as an opportunity to honor her mother and connect with her heritage.
Cardosa, 58, had hoped to make that dream a reality this year. The Dublin Marathon, which wasn’t held last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was scheduled for Oct. 24. However, organizers announced July 7 that the event was being canceled again due to COVID concerns.
Cardosa knew there were contingencies on her getting in — those who signed up for the 2020 race had first dibs — so she already had plans to participate in the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon the same weekend if she couldn’t run in Dublin.
For the marathon, Cardosa is partnering with the University of Washington, the alma mater of her son, Jake Wambaugh, to raise money for its Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, or ADRC. A scholarship provided by the university helped pay for his final year of school, so Cardosa wanted to pay it forward to the school while also supporting a cause she is passionate about.
As of July 15, Cardosa had raised $7,200 toward ADRC and its research efforts to find a cure. Donations can be made to the campaign, dubbed “Dublin for Dementia,” through acceleratemed.org/Maureen-Cardosa.
“The venue has changed, but ‘Dublin for Dementia’ is still strong,” Cardosa said.
“We’re really excited and thankful to have people like Maureen be so generous and enthusiastic about the cause in general,” said Genevieve Wanucha, science writer for ADRC and the university’s Memory & Brain Wellness Center.
“She just feels like she’s in a position now to give back … and she’s just doing it in an incredibly unique way — in a way that’s not just giving money,” Wanucha said. “She’s also pairing it with a positive public health message and a message about dispelling the stigma of dementia.”
Cardosa began her marathon prep in August last year and is now in the midst of a 30-week training program designed for her by her son, who studied kinesiology and played football in college. The rigorous weekly schedule consists of about five to six days of runs, each ranging from three to eight miles, along with three days of weight training.
“All the work that I do day in and day out — sometimes that stuff is just grueling,” she said. “But I have [my mom’s] picture by my bed and I wake up and I look at her and I’m just thinking what this disease has done to her and how tough it is. So that’s what fuels me — to raise money so that we’re not dealing with this, that we’ve got a cure for this awful disease.”
In addition to her training and fundraising, Cardosa regularly posts videos on Instagram that include updates on her progress, exercise and nutritional tips and words of motivation. She said her goal is not to convert more people into marathon runners but to inspire others to find their passion, develop their craft and achieve their personal best.
The posts also hold her accountable to continue her training and stay committed to helping find a cure for dementia, Cardosa said.
“It is a lot of work, but you know what — I wouldn’t do it any differently,” Cardosa said. “And I really have the marathon bug again. So after this it’s going to be, ‘What’s next?’”
— Point Loma-OB Monthly Editor Rob Vardon contributed to this report.