By JOHN J. BURO
FREEHOLD -If the New York City Marathon, now in its 48th year, is recognized as the granddaddy of all footraces, then consider what the Grand to Grand Ultra (G2G)- a six-stage, seven-day trek around the perimeter of the Grand Canyon- would be by comparison.
Envision running through parts of New York’s five boroughs, all 26.219 miles of a zig-zagged course, each day for a week. That would equate to running through the Utah and Arizona desert, from the north rim of the Canyon -one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World- all the way to the Grand Staircase, which is listed on the organizer’s website as “one of the world’s most iconic geological formations”.
To be sure, that description was merely scratching the surface.
“The Grand to Grand Ultra is the first self-supported stage footrace ever to take place in America, on a world class course, that has been experienced by few brave adventurers.
“(It) takes you through a high desert landscape of sand dunes, red rock slot canyons, buttes, mesas and hoodoos. You will experience the remotest part of continental America as did the earliest settlers, Navajo and Paiute Indian tribes. This is where Montezuma’s gold is reputed to be buried.
“You will be immersed in an environment rich in flora and wildlife – from unusual and threatened cacti to big horn sheep to America’s largest bird, the endangered California Condor. Reliant on yourself and without the distractions of phones, laptops and social media you will experience an empowering and inspiring journey that is simply life changing.”
For a ‘grand’ total of 170 miles -all while toting a 20-pound backpack.
Now, some just enjoy running that much and, certainly, the awe-inspiring views don’t hurt. Others relish the two-fold competition; the one against the half-crazed field, each of whom put their respective bodies through intense mental and physical anguish, and the one against nature, itself, complete with all sorts of creepy-crawlies that can emerge -anytime, anywhere- from the vast wilderness.
Then, there are those like Joe Ippolito, a director in the Performance Metrics Group at Covance. The Princeton-based company is described as a “global contract research organization which has worked on all of the top 50 best-selling drugs available today through a full spectrum of nonclinical, clinical and commercialization services.”
Ippolito, 50, has been there more than a decade, long enough to realize how much of an impact his work -and that of the Covance team- has on the lives of others.
There’s one other thing people should know about him: he really doesn’t like to run.
Ippolito first met Jim Raffone three years ago in Manalapan (NJ), during JAR of Hope’s first Guinness world-record attempt for push-ups. Raffone was merely doing his thing, trying to raise both awareness and funding for research to combat Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD).
“His words were spoken from the heart, and inspiring, and reminded me yet again of what Covance does and its impact on people’s lives,” Ippolito recalled. “After the Guinness event, Jim and I got to know each other during a Spartan (obstacle course) race at Mountain Creek -on September 13, which was the two-year anniversary of (Jamesy’s) diagnosis.”
“My path, with Team Jamesy and Jim, really started on that day. I joined with him, and his cause, to help promote awareness wherever I could.”
That included last year’s G2G, which they ended one night after running from eight in the morning -logging more than 100 miles in all-, and only after Raffone was administered an IV bottle.
“I don’t like running -I really can’t stand it- but I do it because I can; the reality is, I have two legs that work,” Ippolito said. “I don’t do it to win; I do it because I am inspired by people, and there’s an opportunity to help. At an earlier JoH event, we had brought a child suffering from DMD across the finish line.
“As we completed this race, his father said, ‘Don’t tell me my son won’t ever cross a finish line’.”
Ippolito can relate to that father -and, of course, to Raffone. His own son, Michael, now 18, was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy following a brain injury as a newborn and has spent a lifetime defying the odds.
“Every day, Michael reminds me that the simple things in life can be easily overlooked. The daily challenges he faces are nothing compared to most things people complain about.”
“Obviously, Jim’s life is a lot different,” Ippolito rationalized. “His son’s situation is life-threatening. As Jim will tell you, ‘Every hour counts; every day counts’.
Ippolito reminded that, through it all, Raffone has done his best to make those hours and days more meaningful.
Like ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange back in August, 2016. Or, speaking in front of the NY State Assembly this past June. Or, getting legislature approved for Duchenne Awareness Week (September 7-13) in New Jersey and from September 10-16 in the State of New York; and, now, the proclamations in the cities of Clearfield and Kaysville, Utah, which declared September 18 as Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy Day.
All in three short years.
While Ippolito’s job description has certainly played a huge role in his life, the challenges he has encountered as a parent have enabled him to fully appreciate why himself and Raffone do what they do.
Maybe, it was all part of the master plan.
Or, in his case, the grand plan.