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A lone dynamo has raised a million dollars for myeloma research through amazing athletic endeavors, such as running 200 miles nonstop.
Gelber and fellow runners finishing a Central Park loop during his 200-mile run.
It was 4:30 in the morning, when most others were asleep, but Eric Gelber was lacing up his sneakers for a cause dear to his heart. He wasn’t training for a typical 5K or 10K run, but was going for something much bigger — 200 miles over the course of one weekend in Central Park.
“I’m giving people hope. That’s what means the most to me,” Gelber, 49, of Chappaqua, New York, said in an interview with CURE® before he completed the run Sept. 16-18, raising $313,500 for multiple myeloma research in the process.
For nearly a decade, Gelber has been running marathons and ultramarathons and setting up his own 100-plus-mile treks to raise money for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF). He started small, running the New York City Marathon in 2007 to raise over $5,000 for a friend with multiple myeloma who was undergoing a stem cell transplant.
“I never really thought much about it other than letting her know that I was doing it for her,” Gelber says. “When I saw how grateful she was, I thought, ‘I need to keep doing this.’ I knew that if I could put more effort toward it, I could raise more money.”
That’s exactly what he did. To date, Gelber, a real estate advisor to retail businesses in New York City, has raised $1.06 million for the MMRF, including the $313,500 donated this year in support of his September Central Park run. To complete the run, Gelber had to make 33 loops around the park, which is just 2 ½ miles long and half a mile wide.
Gelber raised a lot of the money associated with his run in advance, but some supporters also paid $100 during the event to run a lap around Central Park with him, or they pledged to raise $250 or more and got their own online fundraising pages through the MMRF.
Finishing the run meant the realization of a long-term goal for Gelber. He attempted his first “200 Miles Toward a Cure” event in 2014, running for 56 hours straight. Although he fell short of his distance goal, he raised $230,000. The idea for the run came from a solo event Gelber did in 2013, when he ran from Oneonta, New York, to his parents’ house in Suffern — a journey through the Catskills of more than 130 miles.
“It was very remote. Nobody was there, and nobody was tracking me,” Gelber says in describing the lonely run. “But by the time I arrived at my parents’ house two days later, so many people were there.”
The sight of all those supporters inspired him to do more. The next year, Gelber moved the run to Manhattan. His success there this year, he says, is due, in part, to the support of his family and friends, and especially his three children, Jared, Kyle and Isla, and his wife, Tani. While Gelber was joined by friends, colleagues and others committed to raising funds during the run, one person in particular was missing from the event. Anita Sorrell, Gelber’s friend for whom he started running and raising money, passed away in 2012. Sorrell’s death almost meant the end of Gelber’s running career.
“It was definitely tempting, at first, to stop [when Sorrell passed away]. I was upset and asking, ‘What’s the point?’ But along the way, we met so many people that we cared about. We keep going for them,” Gelber says. “I know that’s what Anita wanted me to do.”
Even after a hip surgery in December, Gelber still trained six days a week for his Central Park run. That entailed three days of cross-training and three days of running, including a 35- to 40-mile run once a week. He kept his followers up to date on his regimen and scenic upstate New York runs on his Facebook page, “Just a Mile to Go.” Along the way, he always tried to keep his goals in sight.
“I wanted to make the distance, but the main things were raising awareness, getting the attention and obviously raising the money,” he says. “When someone who is fighting cancer stops me in the park and gives me a hug, it’s that stuff that means the most.”
In addition to writing about Eric Gelber’s fundraising efforts, CURE® staff member Brielle Urciuoli ran 6.1 miles with Gelber in Central Park.