Runners in the 2009 New York City Marathon

Runners in the 2009 New York City Marathon Credit: Ramin Talaie

Andrew Triolo started running before the diagnosis, before his family’s life was thrown into a turbine, before running became an escape. Back then, it was just a means to an end — fitness, health. But after his father was diagnosed with ALS, the dark thoughts took up real estate in his brain, and running helped keep them at bay as much as anything could.

“I went into a depression,” said Triolo, 32, of Babylon. “I was using it for therapy – running longer and longer distances. Because when you run long distances, and I’m talking about 18, 19, 20 miles, you’re talking about running for hours alone. You go through all the thoughts in your head, like a file cabinet, and you pick apart every single thought. You can find yourself.”

Triolo’s father, also Andrew, 61, was diagnosed three years ago. He’s nearly paralyzed and can’t speak, the younger Triolo said, and communicates by mouthing words and email. But Triolo kept running – first half marathons, then the Long Island Marathon last year, followed by the Suffolk Marathon – and quickly, that running has taken on another purpose. Even though doctors say his father’s disease has progressed too far for any new or experimental treatments, maybe, his son thought, he could help someone else.

And that’s where Sunday comes in.

It’s on that morning that Triolo, along with others from the ALS Association, will don their red shirts and run 26.2 miles in the TCS New York City Marathon. Triolo himself has already raised $4,200, before taking a single step. He’ll be running with at least one other Long Islander – Dennis Moeller, 35, of East Meadow, whose family has now raised $26,000 for ALS research. Moeller’s mother, Carol, a runner, died last year of Bulbar Palsy, an ALS-type degenerative disease. On Sunday, Moeller, who said there has been an outpouring of support after his mom’s death, runs his second marathon to benefit the foundation.

“It’s brought out people that we didn’t even know were impacted by my mother,” he said. “I wouldn’t wish that disease on my biggest enemy in this world. What my mom went through, I want to stop that from happening to anyone…(On Sunday) knowing (that other people) are doing the same thing I’m doing, for the same cause, it’s motivating on another level.”

As of Saturday morning, the association has raised more than $181,000 from this marathon alone. Donations can be made to Team ALS.

Triolo’s father, who lives in Franklin Square served in the Marine Corps and though he was once 6-feet tall and 250 pounds, the disease has whittled him down to about 130 pounds, his son said.

“He was a big, strong guy,” said Triolo. “He was my hero growing up. He still is today…It’s the most terrifying disease that exists. There’s no cure and people who have it – there’s a book about it, it’s called the Glass Coffin, and that’s what this disease is. The only thing that doesn’t go is the eyes and the brain, and he’s still 100 percent in there.”

That does mean, though, that Triolo’s dad knows what his son is doing Sunday.

“He can still mouth words, he can still make expressions,” he said. “He’s proud…He’s happy with the money that we raised, even if it’s not going to help him.”

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