Aviva Baker will run the 26-mile New York City Marathon in November for those fighting cancer. All donations she raises will go toward Plant City’s Relay for Life. Photo by Emily Topper.

Running Against Cancer: Bailey Elementary teacher to run New York City Marathon

Bailey Elementary teacher Aviva Baker will run the New York City Marathon in November, with each mile dedicated to someone fighting cancer.
Oct. 14, 2016

Fall has started, but the summer Florida heat has yet to subside. Even so, Bailey Elementary teacher Aviva Baker heads to the Plant City High School track for her afternoon run. 

The temperature peaks in the high 90s. Storm clouds darken overhead. Baker pulls her hair into a ponytail and starts her run. Her bright pink T-shirt is emblazoned with her running mantra: 

Go! Fight! Cure! 

On Sunday, Nov. 6, Baker will run in the New York City Marathon, a 26-mile run that loops through the five boroughs of the Big Apple. Last year, nearly 50,000 runners finished the race. 

“It’s a classic marathon,” Baker says. “It’s like a runner’s dream. This will be my fourth marathon and my last. ” 

This year, Baker is running for those who can’t. Each mile she runs will be dedicated to someone fighting cancer. Baker will embroider a name of someone who is fighting or has fought cancer onto a pair of tights. She’ll wear the tights the day of the marathon. She has five names so far but is looking for 21 more. 

“I wanted to incorporate my love of curing cancer,” Baker says. “The marathon reminded me of Relay (for Life). It’s quite a community thing.” 

Baker is the team captain of Relay for Life at Bailey Elementary School, where she teaches fourth grade. All funds from sponsorships she receives in the New York City Marathon will go toward Plant City’s Relay for Life. 

“The American Cancer Society is amazing,” Baker says. “They do a great job.” 

Baker started running nearly two decades ago, when she was pregnant with her daughter, Abby. She started running to support those who were fighting cancer in 2005, after her brother-in-law, Jeff Cullina, was diagnosed in 2005. 

“My brother-in-law had brain cancer,” Baker says. “He wanted to run the Marine Corps Marathon. I ran it, and I gave him my medal. He loved it.” 

Since then, Baker has continued to run for those who can’t — including her mother, April Layman, who had breast cancer. 

“There’s so many,” Baker says. “I’m blessed that I can do it. If I had cancer, I couldn’t do this. I hate cancer. It’s random. It kills and touches everybody.” 

Ready, Set

The ones fighting and the ones who have lost their battles are what keeps Baker motivated. 

To prepare for the marathon, she runs three days per week for at least 45 minutes and does weekly strength training. On Saturdays, she wakes up before the sun and runs anywhere from 15 to 18 miles. 

“I have run every part of Plant City in the dark,” she says. “I usually run at 5:15 a.m. When it’s a two and a half hour run, it’s too hot later on. I’ve had to make a lot of adjustments. It’s a small sacrifice.” 

Every Saturday, Baker adds one additional mile to her run. She will get up to 22 miles before the marathon in


Well-known throughout Plant City through her work both at Bailey and for Relay for Life, Baker’s students and their parents frequently see her running through the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World. 

“The whole community is supportive,” Baker says. “People stop and give me water when they see me running. It’s a Plant City thing.” 

But she doesn’t stop for long to chat — she gets right back to her run. 

“I’m hoping to finish the marathon in five hours,” she said. “I’m not an Olympian. I start to get tired after 10 miles.” 

It’s during that last few miles when Baker reminds herself why she’s running — and for whom. 

“I can’t give up,” she says.

Contact Emily Topper at etopper@plantcityobserver.com