Harry Palumbo faced a lot of obstacles as he attempted to walk 66 miles in two days to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
Palumbo, a 45-year-old Fox Chase resident and Frankford High School history teacher, walked on rough concrete, dodged potholes and crazy drivers and nursed sore feet and a swollen right ankle on his trek from Fox Chase Cancer Center to Atlantic City. He’s also 14 months removed from reconstructive knee surgery.
Nevertheless, Palumbo completed the walk when he reached the Trump Taj Mahal. The Donald was not waiting to greet him, but he did receive congratulations from some gamblers and others on the boardwalk.
“I was so overwhelmed with emotion,” he said. “I cried like a baby.”
So far, Palumbo has raised about $3,000 for the cancer society through flat donations, pledges per mile and T-shirt sales. He’ll continue to raise money until June 1 and then will present an oversized check to the charity.
Palumbo, who has taught at Frankford High School for 14 years, walked to honor his parents and acquaintances who’ve battled the disease. Virginia Palumbo died of mesothelioma. Michael Palumbo succumbed to stomach cancer.
Five months ago, the 5-foot-9 Palumbo weighed 235 pounds. He began eating better, walking extensively and working out religiously at Powerhouse Gym in Lawndale.
Today, he’s 180 pounds, and his size 36 pants don’t fit anymore.
The walk took place on April 26-27. A friend, Joe Timcho, caught up with him in his car at various intervals along the way.
On the first day, Palumbo started at 5 a.m. He walked along Cottman Avenue to Bustleton Avenue to Harbison Avenue to Levick Street, then across the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge.
In all, he walked 37 miles that first day, stopping at 5 p.m. He thinks he lost 10 pounds.
“At the end of the first day, I was exhausted,” he said.
Palumbo checked into an Econo Lodge in Hammonton. He soaked his feet, watched the NFL draft and ate pizza and pasta before falling into a sound sleep.
On the second day, after a breakfast of cold pizza and pasta, he started at 6 a.m. He was happy to see a, “Welcome to Atlantic County” sign.
“When I saw that sign, I saw light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
The second day consisted of 29 miles.
When he reached the casino at 4:20 p.m., he texted, “Done,” to his followers.
Then, just when he was ready for a peaceful ride home, he had to walk another six blocks to Timcho’s car.
Palumbo said the trip — on Routes 73 and 30 and smaller streets — was as challenging as he expected. His thighs and hips ached.
After learning Palumbo had turned his ankle, retired Frankford football coach and teacher Mike Capriotti encouraged him to go on.
Palumbo also thanks the folks at Temple Orthopedics who performed his knee surgery and the staff at The Run Around, a Roslyn store that gave him quality sneakers at a good price.
The trip gave him plenty of time to think and look at what seemed like an “endless road.”
“The body is not meant to walk sixty-six miles in two days,” he said. “It was a marathon and ten miles , then a marathon and three miles, back to back.”
Palumbo, who swallowed his pride by wearing a fanny pack around his waist, had no choice but to finish after telling family, friends, coworkers and his students that he would complete the walk.
“When you open your mouth,” he said, “you have to back it up.”
Palumbo said he was mentally and physically prepared for the trek. He walked 32 miles one day on a Powerhouse treadmill.
“Talking and planning and training is one thing,” he said. “Doing it’s another.”
Along the way, he tried to avoid walking on concrete when he could in favor of softer asphalt and grass. He listened to music on headphones, an iPod and a small transistor radio.
As he walked, he sent text messages to teaching colleagues, Powerhouse members and others.
The weather cooperated, and Palumbo ate bananas and drank plenty of water, Gatorade and coffee. He sweated plenty, and most stores were kind enough to let him use their restrooms. He also had a nice chat with members of the Winslow Township Fire Department.
One Cracker Barrel employee wanted to know where the rest of Palumbo’s crew was.
“You’re looking at the crew,” he told her.
After arriving home sore and tired, he was greeted by his Fuller Street neighbors and enjoyed a much-needed drink at Sweeney’s Verree Tavern.
When Palumbo returned to the classroom, he shared his experiences with his students. The lesson?
“Don’t quit,” he said.
Donations can be sent to Fighting for Cancer Step By Step, P.O. Box 24666, Philadelphia, PA 19111-24666. ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org