Running for a Cause and Loving Every Minute of It
By Kate Anderson
To know Alex Baker is to know that he is a fighter and a true champion. He runs marathons for a purpose and for causes he believes in and advocates for. How did his journey start? What brought him to find his passion for fitness? His story is one of love, devotion, commitment, and true strength. This story begins with his late wife, Amanda. While attending what was then IUPUI, Alex met his future wife. She was a smart, sassy, funny, and spirited fellow student. He knew there was something special about her from the very beginning. What started as a casual night out at The Vogue, a local hotspot for college students, became something so much more. When I asked him how she knew he was the “one”, he simply replied, “I let her cut in front of me in line.” This small gesture sparked a romance that was destined to live on for a lifetime.
After college, they married and began their life together. Amanda was the kind of soul that loved to “do all the things” and have new experiences. She loved her family and friends and always took joy in supporting them. “If you were excited about something, she was excited about that thing for you,” Alex stated. Fertility struggles brought them closer together, and after three long years they had a baby boy they named Riley. In time, they decided to try again for another child, but were unsuccessful. Life went on and they continued to fiercely love Riley and their life in general. In college, Alex had been in the fraternity Tau Kappa Epsilon or “TKE”. He loved his experience so much that after college, in 2012, he became a member of their staff. He loved his job, meeting new people, and speaking about what this fraternal community does for others and what it meant to him. He even became the editor of their publication at one point. His job was very demanding and required lots of travel, but he always made it work. Fast forward to October 2017. A trip to the ER due to some pains Amanda was having turned into something much more. After a series of X-rays and CT scans, it was determined that Amanda had cancer. They were told that they needed to see an oncologist within 48 hours to assess the situation and begin treatment. On Oct. 16, at the age of 35, Amanda was formally diagnosed with Stage 4 B colorectal cancer. Simply put, it had progressed to a point where her prognosis was not encouraging. “The shock of her diagnosis was crippling. I remember standing next to the hospital bed after hearing the news and felt like I was having an out of body experience,” said Alex. Her cancer journey and treatment was what Alex describes as “100 miles per hour every day”. Although her diagnosis was aggressive, they, along with a wonderful oncologist, worked hard to find new treatments over and over to keep her going. From medical trials in Houston, Texas to consultations from groundbreaking doctors in New York, as a team they fought hard to find answers. Amanda loved the band “311” and her favorite song was “Strong All Along”, which became the fight song and mantra for her cancer journey.
Alex, now the primary parent and caregiver to young Riley, fought incredibly hard to be strong for his family. “Through it all, I fought as hard as I could and loved as hard as I could so that there would be no regrets,” said Alex. During all of this turmoil, he also maintained a full-time job with the fraternity. “I needed to not think about cancer 24/7. Work was the normalcy in my life that I desperately needed.” said Alex. Every single day was a new uphill battle, but Amanda fought bravely and together they were what you would call, “rockstars”. Sadly, it came to a point where medical trials and her battle became futile. Her doctors told them that it was time to stop treatment and focus on her quality of life. They had a hard conversation about he and Riley’s future. Amanda told him to marry again when he felt the time was right, but she had some terms for that person. “The biggest thing she wanted was for that person to love Riley like he was their own,” said Alex.
After a 16-month battle, Amanda passed away on Feb. 5, 2019, just shy of 37 years old. It can be said that she was a fighter with a never-give-up attitude until the very end. Alex deeply grieved his wife’s passing, but knew he had to keep going for Riley’s sake and for himself. Throughout Amanda’s illness, he focused little on himself and what he ate. “I was in survival mode 100% of the time and had no time to focus on my needs,” said Alex. Now it was his time to shift his focus and he began on a health journey that would lead him to challenges and experiences he hadn’t even imagined for himself.
In June 2019 he began his health journey in earnest. “I felt like I had always been overweight, and I knew that I needed a change. I didn’t want Riley to ever lose another parent,” said Alex. Baker, who has lived in Brownsburg since 2009, started working out at a local fitness center called Exercise, Inc., which boasts a 20 minute a week workout plan. “I thought, surely I could find even 20 minutes every week for myself,” said Alex. This, along with other subtle changes, led to him losing 80 pounds. During the Pandemic, he decided to further his fitness journey and in July 2020, he began his participation in the Indy Walk 500 Challenge. “This was not just about getting my steps every day; this was the commitment to walk 500 intentional miles,” said Alex. He accomplished this challenge and walked the 500 miles in 102 days. He felt so inspired that he wondered if he could further challenge himself and start running. With that challenge and his new determination, he ran the Under Armour 100-mile Challenge, which is a virtual race that he ran throughout his neighborhood, with the neighbor kids cheering him on. He found confidence that he had never had before, and this experience empowered him to run the Indy Mini and the Indy Monumental Marathon. He was starting to find his stride and with that, a part of his identity he didn’t know he had within himself. Though he did struggle though these races, the goal was to finish no matter what. He signed up for many races and even participated in a race that led him to run through the snow, slush, and ice on a particularly cold February day in 2020. He persevered, gaining confidence with every step and every mile. Whatever he does, he always has Amanda in his thoughts. He created temporary tattoos that he wears for each race that say “strong all along”. These words spur him on and he is determined to keep her memory alive and even runs 3.11 miles, although 5k’s are normally 3.1 miles. As she loved new experiences, her legacy encourages his to do the same.
Alex has continued his passion for running into this present, where just last month on Nov. 5, he ran the New York City Marathon as a Hero for St. Jude’s Hospital, for which he raised $6,000. This 26.2-mile race challenged him in many ways, but he says he felt prepared. “I trained in a completely different way for this marathon. It is not like training for a 5k. There are so many elements you have to consider, down to the type of socks you are wearing. The energy of the race itself was incredible, though. It kept me going,” said Alex. He is now in training to run all the Abbott World Marathon Majors. There are six in total, New York, Chicago, Boston, Berlin, London, and Tokyo. This is a feat that currently less than 2,900 Americans have ever completed. In April 2024, he will run the Boston Marathon, raising $10,000 for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Then, in October 2024, he will run the Chicago Marathon as a Hero for St. Jude’s Hospital, raising $3,500. With those accomplishments under his belt, he will be well on his way to completing his goal and what an incredible goal it is.
Alex continued to focus on this health and his son without the real thought of pursuing another relationship. In 2020, he took his son to the Indianapolis Zoo and while in the snake exhibit his son became friends with a girl that was there with her mom, Lindsay. The kids wanted to see the zoo together, so the parents followed all the while getting to know each other. He felt like there was an instant connection. After the zoo outing and in the weeks that followed, they went on many play dates for the kids and Alex finally got up the nerve to ask her on an “adult date”. They have been in each other’s lives ever since and though the kids brought them together, he feels that Amanda is looking down on him and orchestrated his meeting with Lindsay. From day one, Alex says, “it just felt right” and they became a family shortly after and the rest is history.
Looking forward to the future, Alex is determined to continue telling his story and share his experiences with others that are in the same sort of situation. “Not many people go through the loss of a spouse from cancer in their 30’s. Every support group Amanda and I went to, we were the youngest people by 25-30 years. I hope to share my story and let others know that there is hope,” says Alex. His wish is to encourage others that there is a “light at the end of the tunnel”. Alex’s story of triumph through pain and loss to his fitness journey is a continued inspiration to others. It can definitely be said that he has been “Strong all Along”.
To donate to Alex’s fundraising efforts, please visit linktr.ee/alexanderdbaker.