By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – In the darkness of early morning, when the city streets sleep, Jeff Callahan runs alone, on the boulevard of dreams as he chases a goal.
At 5 a.m., his shadow is the only one trotting beside him as he starts the journey, with an ultimate goal. The road is lonely, but he knows where this one goes: The Big Apple.
Callahan, Bedford North Lawrence’s athletic director and baseball coach, is pursuing the chance to compete in the prestigious New York City Marathon on Nov. 3. While thousands (last year’s event featured a field of over 52,000) enter, Callahan’s participation is dual in nature.
In order to secure his place, Callahan must raise $3,500 in donations for the Jimmy V Foundation for cancer research. Like so many, the disease strikes a close chord in his family. His mother Judy was diagnosed with cancer in 2014, and his father-in-law Doug lost his fight with the disease in 2007.
So he runs, hoping to make a difference in his life – staying a step ahead of any health issues that can strike a 50-year-old man – and impact those who continue to wage their personal wars against the most vicious of illnesses. The fight itself is a marathon, not a sprint.
“We all know someone who has fought the fight, lost the battle with cancer,” Callahan said. “Maybe some day no one will have to hear those words.”
Callahan didn’t just fall off the couch and decide to run 26.2 miles on a whim. He joined the running craze (or the crazies who run, depends on the viewpoint) in 1998 when he entered the Indy 500 mini-marathon with friends Ty Mungle and Mark Ryan. Since then he’s finished marathons in Nashville and Chicago, in addition to returning to Indianapolis several times.
But as the year flew past, as his workload increased, his road time dwindled. The seed to restart his running was planted during a family vacation to New York in 2014, and he finally made the commitment about a year ago, when THAT visit to the doctor was looming and his health was swooning a bit.
The 1987 BNL graduate wasn’t getting younger. Nobody is. “I didn’t feel well and my weight was up,” Callahan said. “If I was 6-foot-5 I would have been fine. But I’m not.”
So he was on the road again, listening to podcasts in his headphones, usually logging 5-6 miles per day, five days per week, building toward some 20-mile treks in October before finally going the distance through all five NYC boroughs.
“Getting up in the morning at 5 a.m is one of the biggest challenges,” Callahan said. “Some days are easier than others.
“You develop in your training the fact you’re going to finish. I haven’t set a goal time, it’s the goal to finish and not get hurt. I know it will be painful when it’s over. It’s a grind, to know you have to get up. It’s tough. But it will be worth it in the end.”
The Jimmy V Foundation was established in 1993, honoring former North Carolina State basketball coach and ESPN personality Jimmy Valvano, who gave his inspirational “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up” speech during the 1993 ESPY awards. The organization has awarded over $200 million in cancer research grants.
Anyone wishing to contribute for Callahan’s run can click the donate tab at https://www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/teamv2019/jeffcallahan1.