In 2011, Ralph Ventresco’s mother Betty began developing health problems. Betty had a stent placed in her heart during the spring of 2011. She recovered well from the stent surgery, but in August, her health began to deteriorate again. The doctors ran multiple tests in attempts to determine what was causing Betty to be in pain. Right before Thanksgiving, the family received devastating news. Betty was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic Pancreatic Cancer. Betty passed away just three weeks later, leaving behind her husband of 57 years, her five grown children and a much larger extended family.
Ralph Ventresco grew up as the youngest of five siblings in a home that had been passed down through three generations of his mother Betty’s family. The Ventresco home was a warm and friendly place where members of the extended family would routinely gather to enjoy meals and conversation. Ralph’s mother Betty stayed home for a number of years to raise her five children. When Ralph entered high school, Betty went to work for the state welfare office. Ralph remembers his mother Betty as a loving parent who saw value in allowing her children to make their own mistakes and even experience failure. Ralph says that he learned a lot of life’s lessons from his mother.
Ralph Ventresco thrived under his mother’s guidance. He grew up, got married, raised two children of his own and has made a career working for the Federal Reserve in Boston, MA.
It is difficult to watch someone you love suffer and not have any way to alleviate the pain. During the months when Betty was ill, Ralph started running 3 to 4 miles per day. Running helped Ralph mitigate the stress associated with caring for a sick family member. When Betty passed away just three weeks after receiving her Pancreatic Cancer diagnosis, the entire Ventresco family was shocked and heart-broken. Ralph wanted to do something to honor his mother, so he entered a Mother’s Day half-marathon. Ralph had never run more than 8 miles prior to the half-marathon but he took on the challenge because he felt that it was a fitting tribute to the woman who had loved and raised him.
After completing the half-marathon, Ralph continued to run and enter races. Betty had always loved the cartoon character Betty Boop, so Ralph made it a habit to wear Betty Boop items (shirts, bandanas, etc.) while he was running.
Motivated to action by his family’s experience with Pancreatic Cancer, he began looking for ways to use his running to make a difference. Ralph began looking at the charitable organizations affiliated with the Boston Marathon. He found Project Purple and thought that the organization would be a perfect fit for his goals. In January, a slot became available on the Project Purple Boston Marathon charity team. Ralph was offered the spot and he gladly accepted.
The Boston Marathon is held on Patriot’s Day, which falls on the third Monday in April each year. When Ralph got word that he was going to be running for Project Purple, he had only been running 6 to 8 miles at a time. Ralph had never run a marathon before, and he knew he had a lot of work ahead of him to prepare to complete the 26.2 miles. Ralph cut back on his weight lifting and spinning classes and added in progressively longer runs. Because Ralph lives in the Boston area, he was able to attend group training runs on the actual marathon course, with its infamous Newton hills. Training was going well for him until his iliotibial band started to hurt in late March. At that point, Ralph decided he needed to cut back on his running in order to be able to line up at the starting line.
Prior to running Boston, Ralph had never raised charitable donations for any of his races. He was somewhat reluctant to ask people for money at the onset of his fundraising campaign. Ultimately, he found that people wanted to contribute. Ralph ended up raising over $12,000 for Project Purple. Any doubts he had experienced about fundraising disappeared, as the amount of money he raised eclipsed his original target.
Ralph had set three goals for the marathon. He wanted first and foremost to finish. Secondly, he wanted to finish in under 4:30. Finally, he did not want to walk during the race. Unfortunately, shortly after the start of the marathon, Ralph began to experience pain in his foot. Though he was in pain for much of the race, the crowds of cheering spectators kept him going. He finished in 4:56, only walking off and on for about a half-mile. Ralph explained that this race was his way of honoring his mother. The pain he experienced did not compare to the pain and suffering that Betty had endured. Ralph reflected upon how he often thought about his mother while he was running, and often used that time to recount and remember their conversations. Running the Boston Marathon in honor of his mother was an amazing experience for Ralph. He will be running the Boston Marathon again in 2015 as part of the Project Purple team. Ralph hopes that his running, and the money he raises, will help to end Pancreatic Cancer.
Support Ralph’s fundraising efforts at his Crowdrise site: