He’s cha-cha’d for Big Buddy, walked the runway to battle cancer and on Monday Leo Verde will run 26.2 miles for cystic fibrosis in the 117th Boston Marathon.
“Running the Boston Marathon is something I’ve always wanted to do, even when I was playing soccer,” Verde said. “I always ran. I played soccer in high school and we won state my senior year. I went to UNO (University of New Orleans) on a soccer scholarship and even after college I continued to play until I was 24-25. And, being from New Orleans, I used to always try and run in the Crescent City Classic.”
But like a lot of things done when younger, running on a regular basis fell by the wayside as the responsibilities of adult life took precedence. It was when Verde agreed to be one of the Star Dancers in “Dancing with Big Buddy” two years ago that he seriously got into running again.
“I had to get in shape for Big Buddy — really,” said Verde, general manager of Sullivan’s Steakhouse. “My fiancée, Laurie, got the idea for us to run a half marathon, and we did that and had a great time. So, we started running marathons — sometimes together, sometimes just me, sometimes just her. She’s my inspiration.”
There are only three ways to get to run in the prestigious Boston Marathon — by invitation, qualifying time or running to raise money for a charitable cause. The Boston Marathon Official Charity Program began in 1989 when the American Liver Foundation became the first charity to receive official entries into the event. Since then the program has grown to support at least 30 charities each year. “I’m 49 years old. I don’t think I can run a 3:29 or even come close,” said Verde with a laugh.
While Big Buddy and the American Cancer Society are both causes dear to his heart, running for cystic fibrosis was an easy choice. “To be able to run, to breathe, take a deep breath — we take that for granted,” he explained. “That’s the last thing we do before we die. I remember my dad when he was sick and he took his last breath.”
“When I run long distances, I think of everything,” said Verde. “I don’t listen to music, I don’t run with others and talk, I think. I think how lucky I am to be able to breathe.”
For the past several years, Sullivan’s has hosted the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Wine Opener, raising half a million dollars, so the disease and work of the foundation are something he’s very familiar with. That event has also allowed him to get to know some of the local cystic fibrosis patients. “Claire Jumonville, Jamie Crane — they inspire me,” said Verde. “When my feet hurt, my legs are killing me, they are what move me when I run.”
Verde set out with a modest goal to raise $5,000 but quickly surpassed that amount.
“People come into the restaurant and they see the poster and they’ll just give me $20, $50, $100 or more,” said Verde, who increased that goal to $10,000 then to $15,000 then $20,000 and finally to $25,000, which he had achieved as of press time. “I wish I could raise $50,000 because it all stays here (in the greater Baton Rouge area), every dollar, every single penny.”
To prepare to run Boston’s grueling 26.2 miles, Verde has been seriously training for the past two and half months. One of his favorite places to run is The Bluffs outside St. Francisville.
“It’s the closest we have to the hills of Boston. All of the Baton Rouge runners going to Boston have been running there.”
He and Laurie leave for Boston on Saturday. Sunday they’ll drive the 26-mile route to get an up-close look at the course, including the infamous “Heartbreak Hill,” which falls between the 20- and 21-mile mark where runners are prone to experience the phenomenon referred to as “hitting the wall.”
“Laurie’s going to be my cheerleader; she wants to get in (the race) so bad,” Verde said. “Hopefully the weather will be good. I don’t know what they do for top (charity) producers. Maybe let us run next year?”
Verde is one of 14 area runners participating in the Boston Marathon. The others include: Hannah Amoroso, Rebecca Bokun, Todd Denton, Kim Dominick, Jerry J. Falgoust Jr., Beth S. Hitt, Adam MacDowell, Matthew T. Manning, Russell J. Marsh, Erin Oswalt, Kelly Poché, Rosalie L. Teeuwen and Jonathan Thomas.