Running to beat cancer

Beacon Falls resident Dino Verrelli approaches the finish line at the Providence Rock & Roll Half Marathon in August. Verrelli is running 13 half marathons in 13 months to raise for pancreatic cancer research.

Just a few short months after Beacon Falls resident Dino Verrelli pledged to run 13 half-marathons (13.1 miles) in 13 months to raise money for pancreatic cancer research, his father succumbed to the disease.

“The sad thing is, I knew my dad was going to die, I just didn’t know when,” Verrelli said.

Verrelli said his father’s health took a sharp downturn in June.

“I think about him all the time … he was my inspiration and my hero. … I promised him that one day, before he died, that we were going to help find a cure.”

Verrelli said he wants to “take a big chunk out of this evil cancer” and the only way to do that is by raising money.

His father’s death in September has not slowed Verrelli in his goal of raising awareness and $130,000 through his non-profit, Project Purple.

Since June, Verrelli has run eight half-marathons.

“It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a great experience,” Verrelli said.

However, he said all those races are starting to take a toll on his body.

“I think October and November really kind of affected me with the back-to-back half marathons,” Verrelli said.

He said he didn’t know how to say no and signed up for a Boston race when he had already agreed to run in Hartford the following week.

Verrelli’s calendar is already filling up for 2012. His next race is the New York Road Runners Manhattan Half Marathon in January, followed by races in Colchester, West Haven, Cheshire, Danbury, Easton, Simsbury, Fairfield, and finishing up in either Chicago or San Francisco in July.

“I think it would be kind of nice to kind of end the 13 months and do something special,” Verrelli said.

Verrelli isn’t running all those races by himself. He’s collected a team of runners — 35 came out for a Thanksgiving 5K and close to 50 runners have participated in various half-marathons, he said.

“There’s not a week that goes by that I get an e-mail from someone brand new that wants to run on our team,” Verrelli said.

Verrelli said he has been working with race organizers to put up information tents at the races with resources on pancreatic cancer.

Verrelli said he has been trying to get more people involved.

“When I set out to do this, I knew I wasn’t going to move mountains by myself,” Verrelli said.

The races aren’t the only means Project Purple has to raise money. The non-profit has been doing plenty of more traditional fundraisers.

A recent fundraiser held in honor of the late Ron Jolly, who died from pancreatic cancer, raised $1,500.

“(The Jolly family) really rallied around the cause,” Verrelli said.

A host of fundrasierw ill also be held next year, including dinner in March at an Italian social club in Bridgeport Verrelli’s father was member of, a golf fundraiser in May, and a wine tasting in the summer.

Along with helping to raise money, Verrelli hopes Project Purple will become a regional resource for information on pancreatic cancer. He wants to keep the money the group raises local, donating it to local hospitals, and perhaps hosting a pancreatic cancer summit.

So, far, the group has raised about $25,000, averaging about $5,000 per month. It’s a little shy of the $10,000 per month goal Verrelli set out for himself, but he’s confident that donations will jump significantly in 2012 with some of the group’s new initiatives.

Project Purple members Tony Minopoli, Tony Wiezler, Scott Smith, Laura Smith, Loretta Lesko, Genie Triccarico, Leo DiSorbo, Jenine Motasky, Robert Lesko, Tony Piccarillo, and Dino Verrelli pose for a group picture at the Shelton Thanksgiving Race Nov. 25.

“The money’s going to come, it’s just a matter of getting your message out there,” Verrelli said. “I think that we’ve had a great six months of really fundraising and working our campaign. I’m excited about the next seven months.”

Verrelli said the disease briefly held the spotlight with the recent death of Apple giant Steve Jobs, but the cancer deserves more attention.

“I think people realized how evil this cancer was … because it took one of the most powerful people in the world,” Verrelli said.

Verrelli said he has been inspired by another runner who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the same time as his dad. He is known to run to and from his chemotherapy treatments.

At every race he runs, Verrelli said people come up to him and talk about their own experiences with pancreatic cancer.

Through everything he does to advance his cause, Verrelli remembers his father.

“He’s probably up in heaven staring down, and he sees everything that we do. … It comes back to I made a promise to him and I’m going to keep it,” Verrelli said.