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Buffalo's Elephant Run has become an unforgettable Mother's Day race

An elephant never forgets – and neither does a mom.

Lori Lozano remembers when her baby girl was born with a heart defect. How Marcena lived life to the fullest, despite heart transplants at ages 13 and 23. And how, despite health challenges, that she was working toward a social work degree at SUNY Buffalo State when she died nearly a decade ago at age 25.

“She wanted to work with critically ill children,” her mother said. “She would have been wonderful at it.”

Marcena loved elephants. She had likenesses all around the house from the time she was young.

“She loved how connected they seemed to be to each other,” her mother said. “They represented a strong family unit.”

That symbolism helped keep the Lozanos strong through the ups and downs of organ transplantation.

The life of Marcena Lozano inspired the Buffalo Elephant Run.

The life of Marcena Lozano inspired the Buffalo Elephant Run.

Lori and her husband, Kevin, had to plow through Marcena’s college savings for uncovered medical costs and long stays in Pittsburgh during their daughter’s teen years. With that – and the power of organ donation in mind – they devised the Elephant Run.

The ninth installment – which includes a 4-mile run,1-mile fun run and shorter dashes for kids – will take place on Sunday morning in Delaware Park. Proceeds will benefit the Marcena Lozano Donate Life Scholarship Fund, which gives organ recipients a lift with college expenses.

“When we decided to have a race in her memory, the name we picked immediately came up,” Lori Lozano said. “It all kind of fits because of that old line, ‘An elephant never forgets.’ We’ll never forget Marcena, and people who receive an organ, they’ll never forget the life they’ve been given. They’ll never forget their organ donors.”

Registration runs from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Sunday and the race starts at 9:30 a.m. at Marcy Casino. The cost is $30 for the 4-miler; $20 for students under 17 and the fun run.

Individual runners make up most of the pack but teams are encouraged. As is a Mother’s Day race tradition, awards will go to the to the first place mother-daughter and mother-son finishers. New this year, an award also will be given to a four-member team that includes two males and two females – in memory of Tom Donnelly, who died last fall. The regional running icon and longtime Turkey Trot race director helped the Lozanos establish the Elephant Run.

The run has raised $130,000 in scholarships during the last eight years for organ recipients. The Lozanos give priority to students from Western New York and those who have received heart transplants. Find an application at

The stories of scholarship winners have become part of their daughter’s story, believe the Lozanos, who have two other children. Many of the winners help educate their communities about the importance of organ donation – and understand there are no words to thank donor families.

“The best way to thank them is to live a full, rewarding, wonderful life in return,” Lori Lozano said. “That’s what these kids are doing when they’re going off to college, and we’re really honored to give them help along the way.”

Those who want to become organ donors can do two things, she suggested: visit, and, more importantly, tell their family they wish to donate their organs. If the need arises, family members will be asked to give approval.

During the last two weeks alone, as she’s promoted the race, Lozano said she has talked to two people who have donated a kidney to loved ones.

She remembers what organ donation has meant to her family.

The health scares were a battle, Lozano said, one that her daughter faced with determination.

“I remember when they told her she needed a second transplant. She sat quietly for a moment and said, ‘Then let’s get this going, I’ve got to get back to school.’ That gave her a focus.”

Now, it gives her family a way to give back.

“We’re so thankful,” Lozano said, “for two families that made that choice for us and gave us those additional years with Marcena.”


Twitter: @BNrefresh

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