Pat Cazilas was the only banana at the second annual Pineapple Classic 5K.
Wearing a banana-peel costume, a coconut bra and a grass skirt, Cazilas, 25, of Douglaston, looked ready to attend a Hawaiian luau-themed party Sunday morning. He was actually about to embark on a 3.1-mile obstacle course on the hilly campus of the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury.
Cazilas is not a NYIT student, but his fiancee, Kate DeMarco, 23, and the 14 other members of their team were. The students, who are all studying to be physician assistants, raised more than $6,600 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and decided to dedicate their race to DeMarco’s mother, Audrey, 52, and Eugene Davoli, the husband of one of their professors. Both have been diagnosed with lymphoma.
“We’re excited to get together to do something as a class,” Kate DeMarco said. “Not our whole class is here running, but everyone contributed to the donations.”
More than 400 runners and walkers of all ages, many sporting grass skirts, coconut bras and Hawaiian shirts, climbed over rope walls, swung across mud pits and slid down an inflatable slide to complete the obstacle course. Some even carried foam pineapples while participating.
Together, they raised more than $130,000, doubling last year’s fundraising total, according to Jaclyn Sturtevant, special events coordinator for LLS. All the money raised goes toward funding patient support services and research into treatment for blood cancers.
“Every single team that signed up is in it, because they have a connection to our mission,” Sturtevant said. “It’s a great way for our patients to be surrounded by an uplifting event and still keep the mission focused.”
Following Monday's attack on the Boston Marathon, Sturtevant said, security was a concern, but organizers did not have to make any special arrangements due to the race's location.
"The campus security is very involved already, so we were already above our standards of where we need to be," she said.
Security guards were stationed at the entrance of the campus and throughout the course. Race participants and spectators were also notified that any bags left unattended would be checked, according to Sturtevant.
Nurse Dannie McGullam, 42, of Oakdale, ran the race for the first time with her daughter Brielle, 12. Having watched friends battle leukemia and lymphoma, McGullam has long been a supporter of LLS, but the cause became even more personal after she was diagnosed with a malignant blood disease 4-1/2 years ago.
“I like that so much of the money [raised for LLS] goes actually into research, the patients and different events supporting the families,” McGullam said.
Earlier this week, McGullam spoke with her daughter about the bombings in Boston and whether it would change their plans to participate in the Pineapple Classic. But drawing inspiration from their team name, YOLO, which stands for You Only Live Once, they decided to go through with the run.
She added, "It made me more determined, because it's just too important."