A runner with a cause

From left, Genie Tricarico, Dino Verrelli, Shane Behrle, Leo Disorbo, and Loretta Lesko pose after running with Team Project Purple at the Amica Iron Horse Half Marathon on June 5th in Simsbury.

From left, Genie Tricarico, Dino Verrelli, Shane Behrle, Leo Disorbo, and Loretta Lesko pose after running with Team Project Purple at the Amica Iron Horse Half Marathon on June 5th in Simsbury.

Beacon Falls resident Dino Verrelli wants to run 13 half-marathons (that’s 13.1 miles) in 13 months to raise awareness and $130,000 for pancreatic cancer research.

For Verrelli, the cause is personal. His dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2008 and after major surgery and a round of chemotherapy, he went into remission. Just as his family thought he was out of the woods, Verrelli’s father was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer last year. Doctors gave him six months to a year to live.

Verrelli’s father is still alive, but he is racing against the clock. Verrelli hopes his dad will live to see some of his accomplishments in the short term.

“He’s fighting still. It’s not good. The cancer had spread pretty dramatically,” Verrelli said.

According to Verrelli, pancreatic cancer has the fourth highest fatality rate among all cancers, but is the least funded.

“Statistically, the outlook is very dark when diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,” Verrelli said. “It’s pretty much a death sentence.”

Without even a test for pancreatic cancer and no cure, there’s not much that could be done.

“I felt there was so little I could do to help my dad,” Verrelli said.

Verrelli thought there had to be a way to change things. He looked at donating to organizations such as the American Cancer Society and Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, but was disappointed that so many of their dollars were spent on administrative costs. He wanted to put as much money as possible directly into the hands of researchers.

“If we’re going to give money, I really wanted it to go back to really making a difference,” Verrelli said.

Verrelli put together his own non-profit organization, Project Purple, to raise money for the cause. The organization got its official 501-(c)3 status in April, and is bankrolled by Verrelli’s company, Apple Gate Brokerage in Beacon Falls. The company pays for all the non-profits administrative costs, plus donates 5 percent of its total profits to Project Purple.

At this point, Project Purple is looking to donate to two organizations; the Lustgarten Foundation in New York, and the Pancreas Center at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.

Since his dad was diagnosed, Verrelli said he’s met a lot of other people whose relatives are struggling with or succumbed to pancreatic cancer.

“It’s so sad because it’s such a silent killer,” Verrelli said.

He wanted to raise awareness for the disease on the local level. He got the idea to run because he loves running and has seen the success other organizations have had raising awareness and money that way.

“I just feel that anyone can get out and run,” he said.

A couple of his friends and one other member of Project Purple’s board of directors have committed to running all 13 half-marathons.

“I’d love to get more runners because that’s really going to drive our success,” Verrelli said.

Verrelli hopes to run most of the courses locally, but may have to stray further afield as the weather cools down over the winter. So far, he has half-marathons scheduled up until October. His first run was Sunday at the Hartford Marathon Foundation’s Amica Iron Horse Half Marathon in Simsbury.

“It went well. I feel great today,” Verrelli said Monday after the race.

Four runners ran the first race.

In addition to the traditional races, Verrelli hopes to run some extreme races which include obstacle courses. He hopes to get 100 runners to run the Rugged Maniac in Southwood, Massachusetts September 24 and the Men’s Health Urbanathlon in October in New York City, which is a nine mile course through Manhatten, including running up buildings and over taxicabs.

Verrelli said others interested in donating to the cause can run half-marathons all over the country. It doesn’t necessarily have to be at the same event. The group is looking for each runner to raise $500.

Verelli feels raising $130,000 will be easily attainable. Since the group launched its website April 19, they have already raised $2,000 and expected to raise another $4,000 from a June 6 dinner fundraiser.

“We’re really, really in the infancy of raising money,” Verelli said.

The group has set up an account through Active Giving to collect donations. For more information, to join as a runner or to donate to Project Purple visit www.run4projectpurple.com.