Running for a cure, running for a friend
LONDONDERRY - On Monday, a Londonderry father of two will run the Boston Marathon for a friend in need.
Gary Sloper, 37, said he never thought of himself as a marathon runner, but that all changed when he learned that his close friend Louie Smirnioudis had been diagnosed with lung cancer.
Sloper said the news hit his family hard.
"We were just devastated," he said. "Then I got thinking - what could be the best way to raise funds for the cause, while honoring Louie?"
Though he'd only taken up running about a year ago, Sloper soon had his sights set on the Boston Marathon.
As the regional vice president of pre-sales engineering for Century Link, Sloper had participated in a half-marathon his workplace sponsored last year to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Last winter he ran a full marathon at Hampton Beach and he's been training full-time ever since.
"I really wasn't a runner and running a half-marathon was more than I'd ever dreamed," he said.
A visit to Smirnioudis in his hospital room at Dana Farber served as motivation.
"It was really eye-opening and I thought a lot about what Louie's been going through," Sloper said. "Even though training is tough, there's an end in sight. It's just a sacrifice you do. For Louie, things aren't so easy or simple."
Over the long winter months, Sloper said he'd rise extra early so he could be jogging on the road by 4 a.m., well before his daily commute.
"It's funny what becomes part of your regular routine," Sloper said. "For me it became the new normal to wear a head lamp and jog along in pitch darkness."
The family has known Smirnioudis, who owns the Windmill Restaurant in Concord, for more than 20 years.
Smirnioudis' lungs were filled with fluid last winter and he couldn't walk down the stairs. He spent the winter months in a hospital bed as doctors aggressively treated his cancer.
Now feeling a bit better and resting at home, Smirnioudis will soon learn if his most recent treatments have been a success.
Sloper said his friend's perseverance is truly inspiring.
"This is a man who came here from Greece many years ago with $20 in his pocket," Sloper said. "He's worked so hard for everything he's accomplished and he always gives back."
Sloper said his friend opens up his restaurant to the local homeless each Thanksgiving, where he provides a free holiday meal to neighbors in need.
When Sloper told Smirnioudis about his plans to run in the Boston Marathon, "He said, 'Don't do it for me. Do it for someone else who needs help'," Sloper said.
As of Wednesday evening, Sloper had raised more than $6,000 for Dana Farber. He's hoping to raise at least $2,000 more by Marathon Monday.
For more information, or to sponsor Sloper, go to garysloper.com.