Jeremy Holland and Domenique Pulli will compete in the New York City Marathon on Sunday to raise money and awareness for Parkinson's, from which her late father suffered.
CLEARWATER BEACH – Two coworkers at the Palm Pavilion Beachside Grill, united by their desire to help others and their affinity for a rock band, are set to run the famed New York City Marathon this Sunday.
But server Jeremy Holland and cook Domenique Pulli didn't put in the months of grueling preparation necessary to compete in the 26.5-mile road race with thousands of other runners just because of their shared admiration for the music of Styx.
The pair is running for the Michael J. Fox Foundation, dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson's disease through research and to development of improved patient therapies (www.michaeljfox.org).
“My dad was diagnosed with Parkinson's when I was a teen,” said Pulli, whose father, Frank, a Major League Baseball umpire for more than 25 years, died in August of complications related to his affliction.
“It's a horrible disease. It just breaks you down. It breaks the whole family down,” she added. “People don't know a lot about it, so I wanted to do something to bring more awareness to it.”
Earlier this year, Pulli met Holland when he began working at the restaurant. They quickly forged a friendship based on a number of shared interests, including their preference for a popular 1970s-80s band that released a string of five platinum albums at the height of its commercial success.
“We've been coworkers here since January,” Holland said. “One day, 'Come Sail Away' came on the radio. We found out we both loved Styx, and we became friends from there.”
Although the two discovered they had a lot in common, Holland's love of running was not one of them, at least not initially.
While the 28-year-old has entered more than 20 marathons and half-marathons over the past five years, he had to slowly drag Pulli into the sport.
It might not have been as easy as memorizing the lyrics for “Mr. Roboto,” but Pulli eventually came to enjoy the challenge.
“The first 5K I ran I almost threw up,” the 24-year-year-old recalled. “But Jeremy kept pushing me, and gradually I got used to it.”
They soon decided to enter a marathon together, but not just any local road race; they wanted to participate in one of the biggest in the world, the New York City Marathon.
Their problem was, there are only three ways to register for the event: via qualifying times, as part of a charity or through a lottery system.
“I sure as heck wasn't going to qualify with my times, and we didn't think we had a chance at the lottery,” Pulli said. “So we decided to run for a charity, and the Michael J. Fox Foundation was a natural fit because of my father.”
The pair needed to collect $3,000 each in order to qualify for the charity application, so they immediately set out to raise the funds.
They set up a website, www.teampulli.com, and Jeremy began donating all of his tips on Tuesdays to the cause.
“I've basically worked for free every Tuesday,” he said. “But it's worth it.”
The money started coming in, but a funny thing happened along the way: Both Holland and Pulli were selected for the marathon's lottery, the significance of which wasn't lost on the two friends.
“We both got chosen for the lottery, and they only take about 2,800 people out of 48,000 entries,” Holland explained. “The chances of that happening are extremely small.”
”It was fate,” Pulli added. “I know my father had something to do with it.”
While they could've stopped right then and just continued training without the added work of raising money, that's not how these two operate.
After passing the $6,000 mark and affiliating themselves with the foundation that actor Michael J. Fox launched in 2000, Holland, Pulli and their team kept pushing to see how much they actually could raise.
“It was so cool to see the total going up in, like, $2,000 increments,” Pulli said.
On Tuesday night at the restaurant, they revealed how much money they had raised since the whole thing began back in May; the total of $15,137 exceeded even their wildest expectations.
"I knew it was going to be a lot, but this just blows my mind," Holland said. "It's amazing to think we raised this much money from one little idea we had."
Days before they were set to leave for the Big Apple and one of the biggest days of their lives, nervous anticipation had replaced the stress of preparation. But they said they believe the race itself will be the easiest part of their journey.
“For Domenique, the 26 miles will be the easiest part,” Holland said. “It will be a huge celebration of all we accomplished when she crosses the finish line.”
“I really believe all of this was meant to be,” Pulli said. “If I didn't meet Jeremy, I wouldn't have gotten into running, and if I didn't get into running I wouldn't be doing this for the Fox foundation and I wouldn't have gotten as close to my father.
“The memories I have of being with my dad this past year are the best ones I have of him since he was diagnosed, and it's all because of this.”