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April 20. 2014 11:19PM

Londonderry man is running for Joanie


Mark Sullivan, 40, of Londonderry, will wear an angel pin in memory of his friend Joanie Meallo when he runs in the Boston Marathon on Monday. (APRIL GUILMET/Union Leader Correspondent)

LONDONDERRY -- Veteran runner Mark Sullivan will have an angel on his shoulder as he makes his way up Heartbreak Hill Monday morning.

The 40-year-old Londonderry resident, who is running his fifth Boston Marathon for a cause close to his heart, will wear an angel pin during the race in remembrance of a friend lost to cancer.

As he did in 2013, Sullivan will run as a member of the South Shore Hospital Cancer Care Team. Last year's fundraising efforts honored his late aunt Chrystine Sullivan.

This year, Sullivan is running in memory of Joanie Meallo, the wife of longtime colleague and friend Greg Meallo. Joanie died late last year, just a short time after her cancer diagnosis.

Sullivan said he recently visited with Joanie's sister, Paula Dion, who handed him a generous donation, along with a tiny silver angel pin.

"She wanted me to keep Joanie close to my heart as I navigate my way through the course," he said. "I told her it was my honor."

This won't be the first time Sullivan runs a marathon with an angel looking out for him. Having crossed the finish line just 20 minutes before the bombs went off last year, Sullivan said there was never any question as to whether or not he'd run again, though he'll certainly never forget that tragic day.

"I was on Boylston Street, standing about 500 yards away from the finish line talking with another runner," he recalled. "I heard a loud bang. It sounded like a building being demolished."

Initially, Sullivan said, he wasn't particularly alarmed by the blast, but as he made his way to the runners' meeting area, it soon became clear something was very, very wrong.

"People were crying and running around frantically," he said. "At the time, no one knew how big it was."

Fellow Sullivan Tire employee John Drewinak, who manages the company's Plymouth, Mass., store, also is running on Sullivan's 30-member team again this year. While both Sullivan and Drewinak were able to complete the race, most of their teammates didn't get to cross the finish line due to the terrorist attacks.

With both men running for a charitable cause, they quickly realized the enormous potential to bring about positive change in the wake of unspeakable tragedy.

"For me, I felt obligated to run again. I knew how big this marathon is going to be," Sullivan said. "I want to cross that finish line with all of my teammates, because most of them never got to have that experience last year."

Meeting some of Meallo's extended family members for the first time this past week will make the experience all the more poignant, Sullivan said, adding that he also drew inspiration from his meeting last summer with marathon survivors Rosanne Sdoia and Mery Daniels. Both women lost legs from injuries sustained at the 2013 Marathon.

"I was so inspired and humbled to have met them," Sullivan said. "This year is so special and unique for me in so many ways."

A year-round runner, he said he began training heavily for the marathon in late 2013. At the peak of his training, he ran about 45 miles each week to get him in shape for Monday's run.

"Running turned out to be the perfect thing to get me through that long winter," he said. "Though on the snowier days, most of my running was done on a treadmill."

Sullivan hopes to raise at least $7,500 for the South Shore Hospital Cancer Care team. As of Friday morning, he was approximately $1,000 short of his goal.

For more information, visit Sullivan's fundraising page at www.crowdrise.com/SouthShore2014BostonMarathon/fundraiser/marksullivan.

AGuilmet@newstote.com


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