North Xtra: Dad, daughter to race with a cause in mind

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Gary Zangaro doesn't know how many years he would have been able to spend with his mother, but he knows that whatever time he might have spent with her was cut way too short when his mother, Patricia, died following a battle with cancer on Oct. 14, 2012.

He's hoping his efforts will help the sons and daughters of other mothers to avoid the heartache and loss he and his family have experienced from cancer.

Losing a loved one to cancer has been an all-too-frequent occurrence for Zangaro and his family.

"My grandmother and my grandfather also passed away from cancer," said Zangaro, the athletic director and transportation director at Holy Family Academy, the Emsworth-based school, which opens its doors this fall to its first class of incoming freshmen.

Since retiring from the Port Authority as the assistant operations officer in 2006, Zangaro has officiated in five WPIAL sports: softball, basketball, football, soccer and volleyball.

Zangaro has to run extensively when officiating basketball, football and soccer, and a lesser amount with softball. But the distance he runs in those sports doesn't come close to the 13.1-mile distance he and his daughter, Jordan Corcoran, will be traversing when they compete in the Nike Women's Half Marathon Oct. 19 in San Francisco.

The pair will fly to San Francisco Oct. 17 and plan to return to Pittsburgh Oct. 20.

Despite its name, the event is open to men and women, provided a runner is competing for a charity or successfully negotiates a lottery that is becoming more common in popular races.

The former is the case for Zangaro and Corcoran, who are part of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team In Training that has competed in several distance races all over the country.

Corcoran, a 27-year-old Ross resident, works for the society's office in Pittsburgh, and was motivated by what she observed when she accompanied some runners from the Pittsburgh area who were raising funds while competing in the Nike Half Marathon in April in Washington, D.C.

"I was so inspired by the race and what the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society does for these runners that I wanted to fund-raise on my own," she said. "I wanted to do what I ask people to do for me all the time.

"I picked San Francisco, and when I told my dad I was thinking about running the race, he was supportive and wanted to join me."

Zangaro, who will turn 59 on Oct. 6, 13 days before the race, said he was inspired to compete in San Francisco after volunteering at this year's Pittsburgh Marathon.

"I've run five or six marathons, and my best time was 3:17," he said. "I'm not going to come anywhere near that [time], but maybe I will for the half marathon. Just trying to motivate the runners [in the Pittsburgh Marathon] brought back some memories, and the thought was in the back of my mind.

"Then Jordan mentioned to me that she was thinking of running in the half marathon in San Francisco, and I said that maybe I'd do it with her. That's where it all started."

Zangaro and Corcoran have started a fund-raiser called "Cancer Crushers" and they are accepting $10 donations. Checks can be sent to Zangaro at his home, 105 Elrose Drive, Pittsburgh, Pa. 15237. Names of all contributors will be placed on T-shirts Zangaro and Corcoran will be wearing in the race.

Zangaro's wife and Corcoran's husband will accompany the runners to San Francisco.

Zangaro is hoping the two hills promised in the race won't be overly taxing. But he and Corcoran have been training extensively at Riverview Park in Pittsburgh's Observatory Hill neighborhood. The park's perimeter offers a one-mile climb either preceded or followed by a one-mile downhill.

Despite their age difference, Corcoran said she and her dad will run the entire race together.

"Our motto is 'We're all in this together,' so we're going to stick with that," Corcoran said.

At any rate, it will be a first for both of them.

"I've never run a race with my dad before," she said. "It's a very special thing for us to do together. My dad and I are very close and we have a great relationship to begin with.

"It's been fun training together and coming up with fund-raising ideas together, and this is a cause that is very important to us. Doing this race together makes it that much more meaningful."

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