There was never any shortage of Carol Chaoui stories. I literally could have written about her on any single day since we met some 20 years ago as Hunnewell Elementary School parents, whether it was documenting her running achievements, her international flair, her family’s exploits, her fundraising efforts, her fashion style, her food finds or her living the heck out of cancer.
But this is the story I never wanted to write about Carol. She passed away on Aug. 3 at the age of 56 from metastatic breast cancer surrounded by her family—husband Amin, children Adam, Lina, Rayan, and Darin, and dogs Finn & Ollie (formal obituary here).
I actually felt kind of awkward writing about Carol, since we were friends, so I kept it mainly to getting the word out about her various events. I generally left the profiles to other media outlets, be it Runner’s World, WEEI and its Jimmy Fund telethon, or local TV news stations. Though I’d boast of her to friends if we’d see her during training runs.
I joked with Carol about her ubiquity, but she defended it as the best way to boost awareness of metastatic breast cancer. The word “passionate” gets overused, but it applied to Carol in spades. So she smacked down with pro wrestlers, hung with pro football player and stroke survivor Tedi Bruschi, and joined Boston Marathon champ Bill Rodgers on a panel.
I really got to know Carol before she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 and thyroid cancer in 2014. Before she became Wonder Woman, a persona and costume she embraced at road races along with her many caped and devoted superhero friends.
To me, she was that tall redheaded woman who always seemed to be running at the same, fairly fast pace as me back in the day. More than once we’d push each other across 5K, 10K and half marathon courses.
My most memorable race vs. Carol took place at the Annual Officer Stewart Savage Memorial 5K and Kids Fun Run at Babson College, not long after one of her early cancer treatments. She swore she was just going to be “taking it easy,” but of course the next thing you know we are duking it out halfway through the race. And I am determined not to be the jerk to pass a woman recovering from chemotherapy treatments right at the finish line. I did not want to see myself on the cover of the Wellesley Townsman the next week doing that. So I sped up and Carol would have to beat me on another day.
For someone as competitive as Carol, I always found it refreshing that she seemed so chill at her kids’ sporting events. She just wanted them to enjoy whatever it was they were interested in, and wasn’t focused on them following in her running footsteps.
Two of our sons played soccer together for a couple of years, and Carol and I would often sit together under the shade trees at Elm Bank Reservation and yammer away about running, the kids, cancer, her time in and trips to Switzerland, and all those bakeries and cafes she seemed to know so well. She had huge affection for her family, but always took great interest in ours, too, remembering minute details of what the kids were doing.
A different speed
Carol’s running became legendary in these parts as the years went on, not so much for her speed, but for her determination in knocking off marathon after marathon despite the cancer and treatment ravaging her body. I’d run into her and see this or that part of her body bruised or bandaged, and it would turn out not to be from cancer treatment, but from her falling during a long training run.
She’d often take on an apologetic tone for being “so slow,” but eventually talked about coming to terms with being a fast walker. She was spurred on by her dozens of running friends, as well as members of her family who ran alongside her at marathons and other races. She completed a series of tough races, including the New York City Marathon, just this past fall.
While my work schedule didn’t allow me to join in many of her Friday morning runs, which commonly involved stops at local shops for photo ops, themed costumes (St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, etc.), and fancy treat-fests at her anything-but-sterile Wellesley home at the end, I did make it to a few as one of the rare guys on hand.
This is where Carol’s running generosity could be seen, as she mentored budding marathoners as well as couch-to-5K runners. More importantly, she fostered a caring running community.
Many in town learned of Carol through the annual Thanksgiving morning Wellesley Turkey Trot she started that attracted thousands of runners and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charitable causes, including research to cure metastatic breast cancer. When my wife, Deborah, spoke with Carol this past week, the Turkey Trot founder was still trying to figure out whether this fall’s race could go on in some fashion in light of the pandemic, as she hoped to raise funds that would go to the school system as well as the Wellesley COVID-19 Relief Fund.
Beyond the Turkey Trot, Carol raised more money to fund cancer research through her own marathon running, and more still through her annual Vintage Vogue Runway for Research fashion show at which Carol strutted her stuff. Friends who otherwise would never have gone near a fashion show donned the latest styles and hit the catwalk. Hey, she got people to wear full body turkey costumes at the Turkey Trot, too.
Carol’s fashion powers knew no bounds. We’ve seen celebrities like Prince own one color, like purple. But Carol owned both neon pink and orange, as anyone spotting her and Amin walking their pups can attest.
Carol rocked the pink this past February at the Think Beyond Pink basketball doubleheader at Wellesley High School, where she and WHS grad Harry Clark, who recently passed away, inspired patrons to donate funds to their causes.
That was actually the last time I had the chance to sit and chat with Carol at a sports event. Even though her sickness and treatments had weakened her physically, her spirit remained strong. We swapped updates on our families, our health, and of course, running. Just like old friends do.
Our condolences go out to Amin and the entire Chaoui family, as well as to Carol’s many friends.
Visiting hours will be held at the George F. Doherty & Sons Funeral Home, 477 Washington St., (Rt.16) in Wellesley on Thursday, Aug. 6 from 4-8pm. Relatives and friends are invited. A private funeral service will be held on Friday, Aug. 7.
You can show your support for Carol in donating to: Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Division of Philanthropy, 10 Brookline Place West 6th floor, Brookline, MA 02445-7226, Memo: Carol Chaoui’s Superhero MBC Fund, http://danafarber.jimmyfund.org/goto/teamwonderwoman , as well as BCRF, C/O Rebecca Wasserman, 28 West 44th St., Suite 609 NYC, NY 10036.