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10th Gift-of-Life Marathon gets last shot at national record

After coming up short in 2011, the Gift-of-Life Marathon will take a second - and last - shot at the national one-day blood drive record in December, organizers said today.

"We will get the last shot at the national record by anyone in New England," said Steve Costello, vice president for generation and energy innovation at Green Mountain Power, one of the organizers. "The Red Cross is up for one more major attempt, but after this year, we're going to have to rethink the goals for the drive."

For an appointment for the Dec. 18 event, which is strongly suggested, call 800-RED-CROSS or visit www.giftoflifemarathon.com. Potential donors are encouraged to visit www.redcrossblood.org for eligibility requirements.

Regional Red Cross officials say the drive, and one in Manchester, N.H., that set the current record, has grown so quickly that it stretches their resources thin. "We are thrilled with the spirit of the greater Rutland community and the commitment people have shown to this event," said Mike Kempesty, chief executive officer for the Red Cross in New England. "We will do everything in our power to help Rutland break the record this year, and then we'll work with organizers to develop long-range plans for somewhat smaller but equally meaningful events."

The GOLM will continue in 2013, but it will likely be scaled back to a goal of a thousand pints or so, or turned into a two-day drive.
"This is it folks. Rutland and Rutland County have just one more chance to get into the national record books," said Catamount Radio Operations Manager Terry Jaye, another organizer. "What has been accomplished over the past nine events is way beyond what anyone thought possible when we started this, and I am convinced the community can do it."

Jaye said the 2011 drive, the first since the drive's inception to miss the annual goal, was a victim of its own success. "Given the major growth of the past few years, it's not surprising we ran into a couple of problems, but we have learned from them, and we are focused on fixing them," Jaye said.

"After reviewing what went well and where we could improve, two things became clear," Costello said. "We had the volunteers and the donors to break the national record last year, but computer problems and the need for even more staffing hurt us. We feel confident that we have solved those issues, have boosted Red Cross staff from 120 to at least 173, and we believe that if we can turn out enough potential donors, we can break the record this year."

Organizers say several things give them optimism:
•    Vermont law now allows 16-year-olds to donate blood, with parental consent, adding an entire high school class of students to the rolls of potential donors;
•    The drive will expand from three to four sites, including the Paramount Theatre, the American Legion, the Elks Club and the College of St. Joseph's gym;
•    GMP, which merged with Central Vermont Public Service last summer, is committed to the event, and dozens of employees from around the state will join co-workers in Rutland to donate blood.

Jaye and Costello noted that although the focus is often on the fun of breaking records, the GOLM has helped save thousands of lives over the years. "Over the past nine years, we've collected 7,873 pints of blood at the Gift-of-Life Marathon, 1,679 of them from first-time donors," Costello said. "Those are astounding figures for a community of Rutland's size."

The GOLM collected 368 pints in 2003, and has grown steadily ever since. For three straight years, the GOLM broke the New England record for a one-day community blood drive. Boston held the record of 772 pints until Rutland collected 856 in 2008 and 1,024 in 2009. In September 2010, Boston collected 1,177 pints to reclaim the New England record, but Rutland took it back that December, with 1,400 pints.  Manchester, N.H., broke that record - and the national record - last year, with 1,968 pints. The GOLM collected 1,855 pints last year, making it the second-largest one day drive in the country, the largest per-capita in the nation.

The 2012 Gift-of-Life Marathon is set for Dec. 18. For regular updates, visit "Gift OfLife" on Facebook or visit www.giftoflifemarathon.com.