As the mother of NBA champion Ray Allen, Flo Allen-Hopson is best known for wearing her bedazzled No. 20 jersey while cheering for her son at Boston's TD Garden. But don't let her jeweled attire fool you; Allen's 56-year-old mom can probably kick your butt in a foot race.
That's because when she's not in the crowd supporting her son, she's pounding the pavement in preparation for her third consecutive Boston Marathon on Monday. Allen-Hopson once again is running to raise funds for the Joslin Diabetes Center.
Allen-Hopson has been active her entire life, playing semipro basketball in the United Kingdom and going to cycling class at her local gym, but running was never part of her routine. That changed four years ago when a devastating disease hit close to home.
In 2008, Ray Allen's youngest son, Walker, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is a chronic disease in which a child's pancreas no longer produces the insulin needed to survive. Allen was by his son's side when he was hospitalized due to diabetic complications during the Celtics' 2008 champion run.
"I'm a mom and, as a mom, we always want to fix everything but I knew I couldn't fix Walker's disease," Allen-Hopson said.
She took up running in Walker's honor, and at Ray's insistence she tackled the Boston Marathon for the first time in 2010.
"Since I had just run my first half marathon, Ray kept asking me to run the Boston Marathon. I decided to mix the two goals of fixing Walker's disease and finishing a race and eventually said, 'OK.' Walker gave me the courage to step out of my comfort zone," she said.
When Allen-Hopson trained for her first half marathon, she could barely run a minute without stopping. Her interval training consisted of spurts of crying and praying mixed with running. She would go out every day thinking of Walker and eventually finished her first marathon in 5 hours, 33 minutes.
"When I wanted to stop and quit I would just think about the daily pain my grandson endures," Allen-Hopson said. "That's greater than any pain I can feel on the 26.2-mile route."
Walker, who is 5, receives five insulin shots daily and gets his finger pricked to monitor his blood sugar up to 15 times. This will be his routine for the rest of his life unless researchers find a cure.
Walker's mother, Shannon Allen, has to monitor his carbohydrate intake and cooks all his meals. Since his school doesn't have a nurse on site, she also acts as his in-school nurse, sitting outside his classroom every day.
"Having a sick child, you are in constant fear that you will lose him," Shannon said. "I'm not willing to take any chances."
Allen-Hopson is determined to find a cure for her grandson's disease. To that end, she has become the leader of a team of 12 running the Boston Marathon for the Joslin Diabetes Center. The group has raised $62,000 this year. Each member is paired with a Joslin pediatric patient to encourage and inspire them during the run. Patients, along with other diabetes sufferers, line up along the marathon route to support their partners.
Around Mile 16, Allen-Hopson will see her biggest supporter, Walker, and give him a kiss as she runs by the Allens' home in Wellesley, Mass.
"[Flo] running the marathon for Walker has become such a tradition in our household that each year Walker asks, 'Are they running for me, Mommy?' It's a special time for him," Shannon said.
Allen-Hopson and the rest of her team wear T-shirts bearing Walker's face that read, "My Walker made me a runner."
When Walker isn't cheering for his grandma or taking insulin shots, he's just like any other 5-year-old. He enjoys mimicking dance moves from Usher's music videos, and the only time he sits still is to play "NBA 2K12," where he pits the Celtics against the Celtics.
Walker's spirit may have inspired Allen-Hopson to run, but it is her healthy regimen that enables her to log 25 to 40 miles a week.
Each morning Allen-Hopson rises at 5:30 a.m. to beat the heat in her Windermere, Fla., neighborhood. Then she stretches for 30 minutes, eats a banana and is out the door by 6 a.m. She also carries water to make sure she hydrates properly. Her dinner consists of brown rice, vegetables and a protein.
Allen-Hopson's training routine involves 3 to 5 miles of running on weekdays and longer runs on weekends.
"I had no formal training and don't know if I'm doing it the right way but I just figured it out," Allen-Hopson said. "Each year, my goal is to just finish and raise awareness."
While running routes in her lakeside community just outside of Orlando, she's been cheered on by Quentin Richardson, Jason Williams and other NBA players in the area.
Eric Dalbow, her training partner and neighbor, provides two essential tools for their intense running schedule.
"I normally go out an hour before we start our long runs and leave water every two or three miles," Dalbow said. "Flo also has an open invite to my hot tub, that she uses plenty, to get rid of her aches after a long run."
In addition to her running schedule, Allen-Hopson manages Ray's charity, which accepts $3 donations for every 3-pointer he makes. It has raised approximately $25,000 this season for the Joslin Diabetes Center.
Like any super mom, Allen-Hopson has watched every game in Ray's 15-year career. Whether in the arena or on television, she hasn't missed any of his 3-point shots -- and that says a lot, since he is the NBA's career leader in 3-pointers made (2,718).
Allen-Hopson is also a wife, mother of five and grandmother of 13.
With such a busy schedule alongside her demanding training regimen, and a recent diagnosis of arthritis in her back, one has to wonder how long she will continue to run the marathon.
"It's like she doesn't have a stop button for training and how much she can care for her family," Shannon said.
Allen-Hopson added, "Walker can't take a year off from diabetes so I won't take a year off from the race. I'll stop when there is a cure."