You Never Forget Your First Half Marathon

Field hockey player Savannah DeVarney running for love

By Don Norcross

Savannah DeVarney felt helpless. Her soul mate and wife, Kate DeVarney, was diagnosed with breast cancer in May. It was her third bout with breast cancer. In July, Kate underwent a double mastectomy.

“There’s a sense of powerlessness watching someone you love so much going through something difficult,” said Savannah. “Navigating the uncertainty, seeing the fear in my partner’s eyes, you just wish you could take it on yourself.”

Savannah, who lives in Redwood City, Calif., decided to do something for Kate. She signed up for the Golden Gate Half Marathon, whose designated charity is the American Cancer Society. Come Sunday morning, after raising more than $4,000 for ACS, Savannah will take to the beautiful Bay Area course and run her first ever half-marathon.

Kate, who’s recovering from a bout with pneumonia, plans to walk at least the 5K, if not the entire half-marathon.

Regarding Savannah running a half-marathon for her, Kate, 58, said, “She’s the love of my life and every day in every way she’s shown me she’s in this marathon with me, quite literally and figuratively.”

Savannah, 34, is a world-class athlete. She plays forward on the San Francisco Olympic Club’s field hockey team, which won a national championship last summer. She played field hockey at McGill University in Montreal.

Field hockey, though, is a game of short sprint bursts, far different than pounding the pavement for 13.1 miles. While Savannah has been a steady jogger for almost her entire adult life, save for 18 months when she was battling herniated discs, the decision to run a half-marathon was a way of showing support for Kate.

When Savannah committed to run the half-marathon, she only jogged about twice a month for maybe four miles.

“I guess it was about just wanting to feel like I was doing something,” said Savannah. “You feel so hopeless as a partner. To take Kate’s pain away, that was the immediate thing I wanted to do.”

She also wanted to raise funds for research and bond a community around the couple’s battle with cancer. Come Sunday, about 20 friends will walk the 5K, four will join Savannah in the half-marathon and more than 30 will gather for a post-race party.

Savannah and Kate have been married for more than two years. They met at work.

“The beautiful thing is we were friends right off the bat,” said Savannah.

They were friends for years. Their relationship deepened after Kate left the company.

“It was the first time I’d ever fallen in love with a friend,” said Savannah. “It was so joyous. I already knew I loved her. But I had never had that experience of knowing everything about somebody and realizing that love was infinitely more than a friendship love.”

One of the things Savannah admires about Kate is that she can be rock-hard strong yet tender.

“I just love how fierce and gentle she is,” said Savannah. “She has this unique combination of being almost like a powerhouse of a woman. Her perseverance and her determination. She’s such a go-getter. But that’s coupled with this kind gentleness that runs through every fiber of her being in a way that shows up for everything.”

Running a half-marathon is hard. Training for one is far more difficult. The race is the reward for all that mileage. But the path along the journey is filled with workouts when the body aches, when the mind is saying no.

In those difficult moments, multiple things pushed Savannah through workouts. After dealing with bulging discs, she clung to a healthy physical vision. Back straight. Shoulders back. Her chest open.

“I visualized an open-heartedness toward my future,” she said. “That future of bringing our life together as a couple, that future being one of health, being the long life, we plan to enjoy together.”

The pain of a workout is temporary. What enables Savannah to continue putting one foot in front of the other is thinking about the pain her partner is enduring. Kate will soon be undergoing radiation treatment.

“There’s something about shared pain,” said Savannah. “Kate’s shouldering the burden of a lot of the pain. But we as a couple are going through this painful journey. It has already and continues to make us stronger as a couple.”

Today, almost 1,700 people in the United States will die of cancer. That adds up to more than 600,000 Americans dying of cancer this year alone. The mission of the American Cancer Society is to save lives, celebrate lives, and lead the fight for a world without cancer.

Athletes running in the Golden Gate Half Marathon as part of the American Cancer Society DetermiNation program will help fund the organization’s mission to fight cancer from every angle. Proceeds will support programs to fund breakthrough research, and provide free rides to treatment, lodging near hospitals, a live 24/7 helpline, and much more. For more information about how to join the growing American Cancer Society DetermiNation team, visit

Run the Golden Gate Bridge!
November 1, 2020

The Golden Gate Half Marathon is one of the few races you can enter in the Bay area that takes runners across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

Register Now