Wake up at 4:30 a.m., go for a run, shower, drive 20 miles to work.
This had been Eva Casale’s daily routine her entire adult life. Run. Rinse. Repeat. She never questioned it. It simply was the best way to fit training into her daily schedule.
But one day, everything changed. Her ordinary commute became an extraordinary catalyst for good.
“I can’t really explain what happened,” Casale says. “Only that I was called to take action. So I did.”
It was the spring of 2006. Casale was listening to news radio during her commute, which bisected Long Island, New York. An urgent plea came over the airwaves: A local man, a 57-year-old father of two, needed a kidney. He had polycystic kidney disease and was spending 12 hours on dialysis every day.
“Something said to me, ‘You can help this person,’” Casale explains.
She whipped the car around—work could wait—and went back home to look up the man’s blood type on the family’s website. Her blood matched. She called, talked to one of his daughters, and soon found herself at Mount Sinai Hospital, giving one of her kidneys to a complete stranger who lived 5 miles away.
Casale, now 53, has always been a runner. She trained and raced with the New York Road Runners in high school and college. Since she wasn’t an outright speedster in the shorter events, Casale sought the longest races possible to test her endurance.
Until 2006, she averaged one marathon each year. She knew running great distances was her gift, and as most working adults with an extracurricular talent do, she nurtured it when she could and took it out for a spin on weekends.
“I can’t really explain what happened. Only that I was called to take action, so I did.’
After the kidney donation, though, she got a taste of what it feels like to give a part of herself to help someone else. She internalized the recipient’s relief and gratitude and something clicked: Her newfound passion for uplifting complete strangers could fuel her gift of running. In other words, covering extreme distances could raise awareness and funds for causes that deserved more attention than they were getting.
Casale went from a recreational competitor to one of the nation’s most productive ultrarunners, finishing an astounding 50 full marathons and more than 35 ultramarathons since 2006. “You don’t realize the potential of the gift until you actually do it,” she says. The ultimate weekend warrior, Casale averages 5 to 7 miles on weekdays and 20 miles on Saturday and Sunday.
In 2016, she turned her name into an acronym: Every Veteran is Appreciated. Casale focused her efforts on benefiting Hope For The Warriors, an organization that helps veterans transition to civilian life. The task she proposed and completed the past three years was to run 7 marathons in 7 days, totaling 184.3 miles in a week. Starting on April 27, she’ll do it again.
Hundreds of supporters and families of fallen veterans have finished the distance with her, but the first 19 miles of each marathon has been solo. That’s 133 miles a week by herself, which is what’s possible at the intersection of talent, a decade of hard work, and a selfless passion that has nothing—and everything—to do with the sport she loves.
Recovery Is Power
Casale’s legs have helped her raise more than $250,000 throughout her running career. To keep raising funds and bringing communities together, she needs to keep them happy.
“Of course you learn as you go,” says Casale, who takes roughly 400,000 steps during each Team EVA marathon week. “I can’t say I have it down to a science. I try to eat right, hydrate correctly, and eat real food during ultramarathons.”
She began using nuBound in December 2009 and she’s taken four tabs each day ever since. “In the mornings, my legs would be really tired. I’d get up and run on tired legs and tight calves,” Casale says. “It’s completely different now. Recovery is quicker.”
Fast recovery is crucial when Casale goes into the Team EVA week not knowing what the elements will throw at her. The weather looks great this year, but in 2016 and 2017, the skies opened up for five of the seven days. She ramped up her nuBound intake to six tablets for the occasion. “It downpoured, hail, lightning, the whole gamut of weather,” she says. “You adjust and keep moving forward.”
If You Run, They Will Come
Founding a charitable event is a ton of work. Casale is also the vice president of information technology for Suffolk Federal Credit Union, so she plans and promotes her events after hours. Before 2016, she volunteer coached and raced for leukemia research. She ran 150 miles from Manhattan to Montauk, New York, to raise money for 150 children with cancer in 2015. The previous year, she ran 7 marathons in 7 days, raising $25,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
She got involved with veterans assistance after running the Marine Corps Marathon with Team Chris, the Gold Star family of fallen Iraq War veteran Corporal Christopher Scherer. A group of 9/11 veterans awarded Casale the Civilian of the Year for her fundraising efforts, and she began meeting other Gold Star families.
“I started to understand what the person they’d lost was like, what they do to remember and honor them,” Casale says. “I decided at that point I wanted to change focus and raise money for veterans.” She researched veterans charities and discovered Hope for the Warriors. From there, she reached out, introduced herself, and offered her high-mileage fundraising services.
Casale doesn’t ask—nor does she expect—anyone to run 184.3 miles with her. But she promotes the event by asking the neighborhoods along the route to display American flags. She shares the event on social media such that each day, people know the eight to 12 places she’ll stop to lay flowers and wreaths for fallen warriors.
In addition, she meets with their families and neighbors who want to pay tribute, and in return, they join her for an exuberant final 7 miles. It’s like that scene in Forrest Gump when a crowd of increasing size follows Forrest across the country. Except, unlike Tom Hanks, Casale still feels like running.
It’s Easier When It’s Bigger Than You
“I never would’ve thought I’d be putting together events at this grand of scale,” says Casale, when asked whether she could have envisioned Team EVA before 2006. “It took donating my kidney to realize that maybe God had another purpose for me.”
Casale admits it’s really, really hard to complete each year’s marathon week. But then, she imagines the families that have been through the type of pain that doesn’t heal so quickly. Sometimes, she doesn’t need to imagine; her greatest motivators come to her.
“One of the families I run for on the East End of Long Island, the mom and the dad stood there in the pouring rain one year,” Casale says. This mom and dad are separated. They don’t talk much anymore, but they knew Casale would appear in-stride over the bridge named for their son’s ultimate sacrifice.
She ran across that bridge and saw the soldier’s parents once, then ran a few more miles before returning to it. “They were still standing there, together, in the pouring rain for over an hour,” she says.
The pair was soaked, but watching them brave the elements to acknowledge her effort was all Casale needed. “They’ve endured a lot more than I have to.”