“Madison,” “Jack,” “Lexie” and “Dylan” were among the 98 children’s names scrawled on a piece of looseleaf paper written by 8-year-old Gina Gallardo. Each one represents a fellow cancer patient that the Syosset third grader has met during her own experiences fighting leukemia. But unlike Gina, some of them have lost their battles.
“This list is too long,” said Eva Casale, 50, of Glen Cove, while holding the paper Gina had given her. “Even one name on this list is too long.”
Hoping to change that, Casale, a seasoned ultramarathoner -- the term given to people who compete in races longer than 26.2 miles -- is preparing to undertake her greatest challenge yet.
On the morning of April 24, she’ll begin running 150 miles from lower Manhattan to Montauk, crossing over the Brooklyn Bridge to traverse the entire length of Long Island. She plans to complete the journey in about 50 to 55 hours, stopping for short rest breaks along the way.
Each mile, she said, will be dedicated to a child who is either fighting cancer or who has succumbed to the disease, and her goal is to raise $150,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society before she is through.
“This is my biggest event and my longest running event, so I’m hoping that it brings the research money that is needed to really help find a cure for cancer,” she said.
Last summer, Casale raised about $25,000 for the same charity when she ran seven marathons in seven consecutive days on Long Island, a total of 183.4 miles. In 2013, she also ran 100 miles, practically nonstop, from Nassau County’s North Shore to its South Shore, then back north again, to benefit the not-for-profit.
She had considered taking this year off, but shortly after finishing her seven-marathon challenge, the idea of tackling Manhattan to Montauk came up as she was celebrating with friends.
“Each year, I really feel by doing a unique event I’m bringing more awareness to the organization,” she said. “... We can just almost feel that soon there will be something that will be available to cure people with these diseases.”
Training for this year’s event has been difficult due to the long, harsh winter, Casale said, but she’s been doing her best to get in her long runs, which range between 20 and 30 miles, on weekends.
“I feel like I’m ready to go,” she added.
While running along snow-covered paths in the Massapequa Preserve one recent Sunday morning, she said she was hoping for vastly different conditions later this month.
“I’m hoping the weather is 50 to 60s,” she said. “It would be great if I could wear shorts.”
As she did during her seven marathons last year, Casale is also inviting runners of all levels to join her for different legs of her 150-mile trek in exchange for a donation to the LLS. Those interested can sign up via her fundraising site, goteameva.org.
Katie Gallardo, Gina’s mother, said her family plans to see Casale off in lower Manhattan when she starts the run, and catch up with her at different points along the course.
“She’s an amazing human being,” Gallardo, 40, said of Casale. “She can teach a lot of people in this world a lot of things.”
Gallardo said it’s been almost four years since her daughter’s acute lymphoblastic leukemia went into remission, but she said cancer is still always on her mind.
“When I go in and check on her at night, I kiss her 100 times,” she said. “I don’t take a second for granted, I count my blessings and pay it forward.”
Casale said she’s prepared for the physical pain she’ll undoubtedly endure during her latest running challenge.
“But the pain is temporary,” she said. “For those who are sick, unfortunately, the pain they feel is not.”