The answer, Cappelloni replied, was approximately 220. Would Nana believe that Corey, a 45-year-old ultramarathoner and asylum officer, had resolved to cover that distance on foot over the course of one week, with the primary purpose of being able to wave hello from outside her window?
She lit up upon hearing the news.
“You were always there for me, Nana,” Cappelloni said. “By doing this, I want to show you that I’m there for you.”
Cappelloni will set out on his 220-mile journey Friday morning. To avoid major roadways, he will run the equivalent of seven ultramarathons through parks and along trails en route to Scranton, covering ground in places such as Lancaster, Elizabethtown and Bloomsburg while making his way through eastern Pennsylvania. His girlfriend, Susan Kamenar, will follow his route in a rented RV.
The purpose of the trip, besides seeing Nana, is to raise awareness for residents in nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and rehabilitation centers across the world and to thank health-care workers for their heroic efforts during the novel coronavirus pandemic. It’s also to honor the victims of the disease, including Cappelloni’s great uncle — and Nana’s brother-in-law — Charles “Chuck” Gloman, who died May 11. Through donations and sponsors, Cappelloni hopes to raise $22,000 — $100 for each mile run — for Allied Health Services. As of Thursday morning, he was nearly $18,000 toward that goal.
This isn’t the endurance challenge Cappelloni figured he would be running this year. In mid-March, he was set to fly to Arizona for an ultramarathon near Lake Powell, but after the NBA became the first North American sports league to suspend its season because of the coronavirus that week, he decided to stay home.
As life changed drastically over the coming days, Cappelloni tried to find the positive and focused on the things he could control. He continued his morning run around the neighborhood. He committed himself to reading more and experimenting with vegan recipes. The sheltering-in-place experience, at least early on, reminded him of his time in the Peace Corps in the late 1990s, when he lived in a small village in Moldova.
Adjusting to the new normal was more difficult for Nana, who moved into Scranton’s Allied Services center after suffering a fall in April 2019. Like many operators of health-care facilities throughout the country, Allied Services enacted a strict no-visitor policy and confined residents to their rooms to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Cappelloni called to check on his grandmother regularly.
“I noticed after the first couple weeks she became more and more sad, scared about everything that was going on,” Cappelloni said in a phone interview. “She’s been feeling very lonely, very scared, and you can tell in her voice. I figured I needed to do something to get her spirits up.”
Cappelloni, who grew up down the street from his grandparents’ home near Lake Scranton and considers Nana “like a second mother,” started sending chocolates and photography books. Nana looked forward to the packages every week, and her mood gradually improved. After talking about visiting his grandmother in February ahead of his upcoming ultramarathon in Arizona, Cappelloni ultimately decided to wait until the weather got warmer. Then the coronavirus hit. In mid-April, Kamenar floated the idea of a run to Scranton.
“I thought I was finished with ultramarathons,” said Cappelloni, who completed the Half Marathon des Sables, a 75-mile trek through Peru’s Ica Desert, in December. In 2018, he ran the six-day, 156-mile Marathon des Sables through the Sahara Desert and a year earlier ran his first Half Marathon des Sables in Fuerteventura, off the coast of Morocco. “I was happy with the races that I did, and I was going to retire. A couple weeks after I got back from Peru, my girlfriend started pitching different races.”
With a playlist that includes everything from U2′s “Where the Streets Have No Name” to “Runnin” off the “Creed II” soundtrack, Cappelloni plans to leave his apartment around 5:30 a.m. Friday. His goal each day is to get in as many miles as he can before it gets too hot. On the first leg of his journey, he will run down Wisconsin Avenue and through Georgetown before making his way around the Mall and circling back through Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan. On his way out of the District, he will run past Stoddard Baptist Nursing Home in Northwest, where staff and residents will be awaiting his arrival to offer socially distanced support.
“It’s a little intimidating because at the end of the race in Morocco, I was in rough shape,” said Cappelloni, who has never run more than 156 miles in a week. “There are some things that I’m hoping will weigh in my favor.”
Whereas runners in the Marathon des Sables are required to carry all of the food and equipment they will need and sleep in open-sided tents, Cappelloni will spend his nights over the next week in the relative comfort of an RV. He will wear a vest that holds a liter of water and snacks, such as protein bars, honey packets and chia seeds, and Kamenar will greet him at the end of each day’s run with a premade, protein-packed smoothie. Dinners will consist of quinoa, tempeh, vegetables and bean dips.
If all goes according to plan, Cappelloni will arrive at Nana’s residence, with a police escort and Scranton’s mayor expected to be among the welcoming party, some time after 2 p.m. June 19.
“I’m not going to break any records, but if I can avoid injury and just keep putting one foot in front of the other, just keep going, it’ll be great,” Cappelloni said. “I’m hoping that I got lucky and I got my grandmother’s genes.”
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