From left, Mackenzie Cook, nurse practioner in the Department of Neurosurgery; her grandfather, Aaron Cummins; and Dr. Allison Strickland, neurosurgeon and Boston Marathon runner.
From left, Mackenzie Cook, nurse practioner in the Department of Neurosurgery; her grandfather, Aaron Cummins; and Dr. Allison Strickland, neurosurgeon and Boston Marathon runner.
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Front and Center: Dr. Allison Strickland

Published on Monday, March 11, 2024

By: Rachel Vanderford,

Photos By: Joe Ellis/ UMMC Photography

Dr. Allison Strickland has never been afraid to chase big dreams.

In 2019, the Texas native was the first woman to graduate from the neurosurgery residency program at the University of Oklahoma. Then, after completing her senior endovascular neurosurgery fellowship with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in 2020, she came to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, bringing with her the minimally invasive transradial access technique, which enhances patient safety and comfort and shortens recovery time for neurovascular procedures. She remains the only neurosurgeon in Mississippi who offers this technique.

Strickland will soon blaze a new trail when she runs in the 2024 Boston Marathon.

An avid runner, Strickland has taken part in recreational 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, and full marathons across the country. She never shies away from a challenge.

Just a few months ago, she completed her first "ultramarathon," an endurance race or trek beyond the standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles. Strickland said she has been running intermittently since college, but she really began pursuing it during her neurosurgery residency.

“My first half marathon was in Maui when I was a resident, so that was really cool,” she said. “Since then, I’ve done about 15 half marathons and four full marathons. So, this will be my fifth full marathon.”

Dr. Allison Strickland pictured with her medal from the 2023 Walt Disney World Marathon.
Dr. Allison Strickland pictured with her medal from the 2023 Walt Disney World Marathon.

Last year, Strickland ran the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend “Dopey Challenge,” a 5k, 10k, half marathon and a full marathon in support of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society that takes place over the course of four days.

Strickland said she was running with a friend of her mom’s who decided, at 76, to run her first marathon.

“She did her first half that year,” she said. “After that, she wanted to do a full marathon, so I went with her to Disney to take her to the starting line. And she finished in the seven-hour time limit, like 45 seconds before.”

In April, Strickland will take part in the world-famous Boston Marathon alongside professional athletes from countries all over the globe.

To qualify for the Boston Marathon, runners must achieve the qualifying time on a certified course approved by the USA Track and Field or an international equivalent designated by the race’s organizers, the Boston Athletic Association. Strickland said the people who “Boston Qualify” for the event are in the top 12% of runners in the world.

“Running the Boston Marathon has always been a dream of mine,” Strickland said. “I’m not a super fast runner but I’m a very steady runner. I have good endurance.”

Strickland received an invitation to participate in the marathon through the Bank of America Marathon Charity Program. Although participants of the program don’t have to meet the same qualifying standards as other runners, the selection process for invites is still competitive due to the limited number of spots available.

“It’s just an honor to get to experience that as a recreational runner,” she said. “Just to be there to see it and feel all of the emotions is exciting for me.”

Athletes chosen to run through the charity program must raise at least $5,000 for their selected cause. Strickland chose to raise money for a charity close to her heart, IMPACT Melanoma.

As a neurosurgeon, Strickland said she treats and operates on patients with metastatic melanoma often. Her decision to apply for the marathon was prompted by one patient’s prognosis.

Strickland with patient Kelly Hicks.
Strickland with patient Kelly Hicks.

“The day I filled out that application, I was on call,” she said. “I had a patient, Kelly Hicks, who came into the hospital that day and had a brain tumor. She had a history of melanoma, so we were concerned about that. Well sure enough, it was melanoma. She did very well. I kind of had one of those moments where I thought ‘Hmm, I should run the Boston Marathon for her.’”

In addition to her patients, Strickland is running to support her loved ones with melanoma. In 2021, Aaron Cummins, the grandfather of Mackenzie Cook and a close family friend of Strickland, was diagnosed with melanoma. Cook, nurse practitioner in the Department of Neurosurgery, was working as Strickland’s nurse coordinator at the time.

“He’s got a fighting spirit,” Strickland said. “He’s undergone immunotherapy, chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery for it and he’s still going.”

Cook said her grandfather’s battle with cancer has been difficult. “There have been many ups and downs, extensive testing, surgical procedures and treatments,” she said. Cook said she feels fortunate to have Strickland as a shoulder to lean on and a friend to confide in throughout this journey.

“Anyone who has met her can attest that she has a way of making the people around her feel deeply cared for,” said Cook. “While my grandfather has not been a patient of hers, she has always made it a priority to check on his status and ensure that he is well taken care of.

In addition to using evidence-based practices, Cook said that Strickland prioritizes empathizing with her patients. This is particularly important, Cook noted, due to the complexity of neurosurgical conditions and their associated symptoms.

Aaron Cummins shares a laugh with Mackenzie Cook, his granddaughter and nurse practioner in the Department of Neurosurgery, left, and Dr. Allison Strickland, neurosurgeon and family friend.
Cummins shares a laugh with Cook and Strickland.

Cook said Strickland is close with her family and immediately hit it off with her grandfather, who Cook calls “Poppy,” as soon as they met.

“I feel this goes without saying, but Dr. Strickland’s greatest quality, in my opinion, is her selflessness,” said Cook. “It’s ironic that I would say the same thing about my grandfather. I’m so excited to see Dr. Strickland accomplish one of her biggest bucket list items while also honoring my grandfather and turning a difficult time in his life into a motivating story.”

Cummins, who used to participate in local 5Ks and half marathons, was training to complete his first full marathon when he suffered an injury that kept him from being able to continue running. He said that he is touched that Strickland will be running to raise money for a cause so personal to him.

“It’s almost as if, through Dr. Strickland, he will be fulfilling his goal,” Cook said.

“When I found out that she was running the race in honor of me and my journey with melanoma, I was truly touched and appreciative,” said Cummins. “Even more so, I’m thankful to know she is raising money for such a worthy organization that is dedicated to raising melanoma awareness. I hope that the works for IMPACT Melanoma can assist in preventing others from going through a battle like mine.”

“I’m running the Boston Marathon for him, but I’m also running for all my patients who are fighting against melanoma every day,” said Strickland.