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Eva Casale of Glen Cove finishes 7 marathons in 7 days to fight cancer

Eva Casale, 49, of Glen Cove, leads a

Eva Casale, 49, of Glen Cove, leads a pack of runners down School Street to the finish line in her hometown on Sunday, July 13, 2014. This was her seventh and final marathon of the week. Credit: Tara Conry

She did it.

Eva Casale barrelled down School Street in Glen Cove Sunday afternoon, leading a pack of other runners toward a crowd of fans who were shaking cowbells and chanting her name.

As she crossed a finish line marked off by chalk and an archway of purple-and-white balloons, the 49-year-old Glen Cove resident threw up her arms to celebrate. She had just finished her seventh and final marathon of the week, logging a total of 183.4 miles.

"Right now, I feel really great," said Casale.

Although she had completed 51 full marathons and 32 ultramarathons, ranging from 31 to 126.2 miles, in the past, this was the first time she ran seven marathons in the same week.

"It was a challenge in the heat this week," she said. "It was tougher than I expected."

But Casale was quick to point out that this week wasn't just about her.

"This week was all about awareness," she said. "We brought awareness to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the good work we do ... to fight cancer and try to find a cure."

Casale undertook the feat to raise money for the charity, which funds blood cancer research. As of Sunday afternoon, she had collected about $23,200 in donations via her website, Her goal is to raise $49,000.

Many of the donations were made by fellow runners who pledged money for the privilege of running alongside Casale throughout the week.

On Monday, about a dozen runners joined Casale for the last leg of her first marathon in Hauppauge. On Tuesday, close to 20 ran with her in Sayville, and on Wednesday, one runner even joined her for the full 26.2 miles in Farmingdale.

Thursday was a special night, as the group swelled to 50 runners and included an emotional tribute to Rich Arcuri, a Bay Shore man and avid runner who died in a work-related accident on June 20, one day shy of his 50th birthday. Arcuri's family ran with Casale, who altered her route so that the last leg of her fourth marathon would go past their home. Once outside the house, the group released balloons in his honor.

For Friday’s marathon, which started in Lynbrook, Casale ran the last 7.2 miles of the race with another special guest by her side, Ruth Rosenblat.

Rosenblat met Casale in 2006 when she donated a kidney to Rosenblat’s ailing father, Anatoli Potik.

“She was a stranger, and she saved my dad’s life,” said Rosenblat, 36, of Roslyn.

Casale had been driving to work one day when she heard a news story on the radio about Potik. The Roslyn man, who suffers from polycystic kidney disease, needed a kidney transplant and none of his relatives were able to donate.

Upon hearing this, Casale turned her car around, went home and looked up the website Potik’s family had created. She contacted them, proved to be a suitable match and gave one of her kidneys to Potik, who at 65, is still flourishing.

“She’s an amazing person,” Rosenblat said. “So selfless.”

Casale said it was the kidney donation that later inspired her to use her passion for running to give back. She said she realized, “I’m here to help many people.”

Soon after she signed up for Team in Training, a group that raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society while participating in marathons and other endurance events.

Casale's Team in Training teammates have been at her side for each of her marathons. For Saturday's run in Massapequa, a group of them ran half the distance  — 13.1 miles — with her.

On Sunday, hundreds of team members turned out to Glen Cove. Some ran with Casale, others supported her on the course, providing orange slices and Gatorade, and many more waited at the finish line outside The Downtown Cafe to give her a hero's welcome.

The crowd also included cancer survivors such as 7-year-old Gina Gallardo, of Syosset, who had been diagnosed with leukemia in 2009.

Gina's mother, Katie Gallardo, called Casale "inspiring."

"She has done so much to raise awareness and to help others," Gallardo added.

And while Casale is giving herself some time to recover, she said she hopes donations continue to pour in for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

"Cancer does not end at that finish line," she said. "Cancer ends when we have a cure."

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