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Published: Wednesday, 8/19/2009

A Grand run

BY ANN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

You can call them Four Crazy Guys.

That s what they call themselves on their Web site, ynotmakeadifference.com the one that says how and why this group of buddies will set off before dawn on Saturday from a campground on one rim of the Grand Canyon and run to the other rim and back in one day.

That s 48 miles, they figure, and they expect to complete the grueling trip in about 12 hours.

Why, you ask? Others have asked, too. In fact, after they decided earlier this year to do it, they asked themselves why.

The answer is in the name on their Web site and the running shirts they wear: Y not ... make a difference.

They decided to make it a fund-raiser for charities that have touched them personally:

• Steve Ball, 48, of Temperance, for Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. His wife is a breast cancer survivor, and one of their four children is a Type 1 diabetic.

• Eric Cukierski, 40, of West Toledo, for the Autism Society of America and Agility Angels, a group of volunteers and their dogs who work with autistic children and teens to help them develop social and physical skills. His 12-year-old twin boys were diagnosed with autism when they were 3.

• Jay Heasley, 23, of Lambertville, for the National Kidney Foundation. He lost a grandfather to kidney failure.

• Bobby Merritt, 38, who moved from Temperance to Houston this summer, for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and the Immune Deficiency Foundation. His brother-in-law died from a severe asthma attack, and other relatives live with asthma and allergic complications. In addition, he has two nephews who were born with an immune deficiency disease.

We wanted to do something so extreme that it draws attention... to promote our causes that we re running for, said Mr. Cukierski, a high school science and physical education teacher for Bedford Public Schools.

Yes, it will be mighty satisfying for these endurance athletes to be able to say they ran from Grand Canyon Points A to B to A, but they want more. I want to be able to say we did that and we raised X number of dollars, he added.

It s a bigger reason than for ourselves, said Mr. Merritt, a college scout for the Houston Texans of the National Football League.

The idea started to take shape early this year after the four had finished a 20-mile run. They were watching a basketball game and talking about doing something big something that would push them even more than the marathons, Iron Man competitions, triathlons, and duathlons they had been doing.

Mr. Ball, a business teacher at Bedford High School, came up with the idea of tackling the Grand Canyon. First [the idea] was we could run it, and pretty soon it was rim to rim, and then it was rim to rim to rim, he said.

Can it be done?

Oh, yeah, he said confidently.

So the challenge was agreed upon, but there was a void ... What exactly is the purpose of doing this? That s when we put a purpose behind it, said Mr. Heasley, who owns a lawn care business and is a patient transporter at Toledo Hospital and substitute teacher in Monroe County.

In doing something like this, you have to have some kind of motivation, he continued. I think the biggest thing that lights all of our flames is the fact that we re doing this for charity.

Individual donations have ranged from $5 to several hundred dollars, Mr. Cukierski said. Donations which can still be made at the Web site can be directed to a specific charity or to a fund that will be split among all of the organizations. The runners said none of the money will be used to pay their expenses.

Their original goal was to collect $10,000 for the charities. We have just over $6,000 now, Mr. Merritt said.

Several companies have donated equipment such as hats, socks, and water bottles. Locally, Dave s Running Shop has publicized the run on its Web site and given the four men discounts on equipment and supplies, Mr. Cukierski said.

Their training has included drills on stadium steps, three-hour runs on treadmills set at a steep incline, and 20 and 25-mile runs carrying their loaded backpacks.

We ve put in some horrendous training days, Mr. Cukierski said. They have tried to simulate heat and incline/decline conditions in their training, but haven t been able to simulate the altitude, he added. We have no way to do that around here. We re sure it s going to affect us a little, but I don t think it s going to be a big problem.

The elevation in Toledo is about 615 feet, compared with 7,000 to 8,000 feet in the Grand Canyon.

They know they ll have to focus on maintaining a slow, steady pace, Mr. Ball said particularly to resist the urge to move too quickly in the beginning on the downhill stretch. We ve been working on that physically and mentally during our training, he said.

As detailed on their Web site, here s their plan: Starting on the south rim, the first leg is a descent on the South Kaibab Trail to the bottom of the canyon. They ll cross the Colorado River on the Kaibab Suspension Bridge, continuing past the Phantom Ranch. The North Kaibab Trail will take them up to the north rim, where they plan to stop for a group photo before descending again to the canyon, crossing the Colorado on the Bright Angel Suspension Bridge, and heading up on the Bright Angel Trail.

In their backpacks they ll carry water pouches, energy foods such as Power Bar gel and electrolyte replacements that they can consume quickly, first-aid kits, and a camera.

There are no plans for a celebration when it s over not right away. They think they ll have just enough energy for a group photo, fist bumps, and hot showers before crawling into their sleeping bags.

Contact Ann Weber at: aweber@theblade.comor 419-724-6126.



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