— Harry Palumbo will walk from Fox Chase Cancer Center to Atlantic City to raise money for the American Cancer Society in honor of his mother and father.
To honor his mother and father, who both died of cancer, Harry Palumbo figured he could down a dozen shots of Sambuca and get a tattoo that reads, “Mom and Dad.”
“But I’m scared of needles,” he said.
Palumbo, a 45-year-old Fox Chase resident and Frankford High School history teacher, has a pretty good backup plan.
On April 26 and 27, he’ll walk 66 miles from Fox Chase Cancer Center to the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
There are doubters who say he won’t make it.
“I’m a middle-aged guy with a bum knee,” he said.
To those doubters, he asks what flavor of saltwater taffy they want from a shop on the Atlantic City boardwalk.
Palumbo is confident he’ll complete the long journey.
“Failure is not an option,” he said.
Born and raised in South Philadelphia, Palumbo lost his mom to mesothelioma at age 49. He and his sister, Angela, both college students at the time, felt like orphans.
Palumbo’s dad was a bodybuilder who died in 2009 at age 76 from stomach cancer.
“The guy lived and breathed fitness,” his son said. “There’s no rhyme or reason he got cancer. My father fought to his last breath.”
Besides losing his parents, Palumbo has a friend who lost her husband to brain cancer. A 31-year-old co-worker is battling breast cancer.
Palumbo, though, wasn’t in good enough shape last year to consider a walk to benefit cancer research. He underwent reconstructive surgery on his right knee in March 2012.
On Christmas Eve, he saw a picture of himself. He was carrying about 235 pounds on his 5-foot-9 frame and likened himself to a “little Butterball.”
“My father would smack me if he saw me look like that,” he said.
Palumbo didn’t make a mere New Year’s resolution to lose weight, he made a “life-changing resolution.”
In addition to sticking to a better diet, he walks extensively and works out religiously at Powerhouse Gym in Lawndale.
Today, he is a svelte 183 pounds, meaning he’s lost more than 50 pounds in less than four months. His size 36 pants don’t fit anymore. He wears a size 32.
All the training has paid off.
“My knee is sore afterward,” he said, “but I suck it up.”
Palumbo, who has taught at Frankford for 14 years, hopes to raise $10,000. He encourages people to make flat donations, or pledges of a dollar or two for each mile walked.
In addition, he is selling T-shirts for $10. Frankford senior Shantelle Flippen designed the shirts, which read, “Fox Chase to A.C. One step closer to a cure,” with a picture of a sneaker stepping on the word “cancer.”
As the walk gets closer, he is hopeful people will support his fight against a disease that wreaks havoc on young and old, rich and poor.
“Everybody knows somebody who has cancer or somebody who has passed away from it,” he said.
Palumbo’s quest will begin at 5 a.m. on April 26, a Friday. He’ll walk from Fox Chase Cancer Center over the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge. He expects to walk 36 miles the first day before settling in for a good night’s rest at the Hammonton Inn.
On April 27, he’ll walk the final 30 miles.
“Four to five miles an hour is a pretty good pace,” he said.
Palumbo will have to make stops along the way to go to the bathroom and change his socks and sneakers. He’ll also have to navigate traffic. He plans to arrive at the Donald Trump-owned casino hotel about 3 p.m.
“If The Donald is there, I won’t give him hair tips, but I’ll ask him for a donation,” he said.
As he walks, he plans to be thinking about his parents. He’ll be carrying rosary beads and listening to music on headphones.
Palumbo is ready for the challenge. He walks on the Powerhouse Gym treadmills for hours at a time and also lifts weights and hits a heavy bag. He can be seen regularly walking the streets of Fox Chase and around Abraham Lincoln High School, building his way up from 18 to 21 to 27 miles a day.
If Michael and Virginia Palumbo could battle a deadly disease, he can walk 66 miles in two days.
“They didn’t back down,” he said.
By walking such a long distance in such a short time, Palumbo hopes to inspire others. He’d love to hear someone say, “I’m going to top him. I’m going to walk 70 miles.”
“I’m doing this for my parents and anybody else who has had cancer,” he said. “Maybe the money I raise can save somebody.” ••
To buy a T-shirt or for more information, visit www.66milein2days.webs.com or check out the Fighting for Cancer Step By Step page on Facebook.
Donations can be sent to Fighting for Cancer Step By Step, P.O. Box 24666, Philadelphia, PA 19111-24666. Follow Palumbo’s progress on Twitter @thehman1967.