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  2001 BOSTON MARATHON

Going the distance

Todd Rassiger runs his first marathon today; the rest of his 'Dream Team' doesn't have it so easy

By Bella English, Globe Staff, 4/16/2001

t wasn't enough that Todd Rassiger decided to give up beer and sweets to run in his first marathon today, in Boston. He had to drag his friends into it, too.

There are 25 of them strung across eight states on the ''Dream Team,'' each with a deadline of today to achieve his or her own goal. They range from the dull ''lose 10 pounds'' to the dramatic ''start own company,'' the daring ''run for political office'' to the daunting ''read Bible from cover to cover.'' Most are 20-somethings who have put off that nagging ''should do'' for too long. And most have stuck to their goals - except for the woman who vowed to gather friends together for a high school reunion but ditched to Singapore instead. About half have completed them by today.

The Dream Team grew out of Rassiger's desire not to change the world, but to change himself. ''It's not like this big vision,'' says the rangy 28-year-old, who lives in the North End. ''It's just important things people want to get done in their lives and have been putting off.''

For Rassiger, it meant running the marathon in honor of his father, who has been battling lymphoma for seven years. Don Rassiger was diagnosed at age 60, forcing his retirement as a salesman on Long Island, where he and his wife, Carolyn, raised their three children. Three times the cancer has come back. Last year, the kids were called home because it appeared time was running out.

That's when Todd decided to do something that would boost the spirits of his homebound father, who has since rallied and is now in stable condition. In September, father and son held a fund-raiser at their beloved Shea Stadium, raising $5,000 for the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society of America.

But the son wanted to do more. He soon learned about Hope Lodge, a Victorian home in Worcester sponsored by the American Cancer Society, which provides free lodging and transportation to hospitals for families facing cancer. ''Because my family has been so impacted by my dad's cancer, I wanted to help other families,'' says Rassiger, who works for MassDevelopment, a state agency that funds nonprofit organizations. So, in addition to the marathon, he added Hope Lodge to his dream list. Through fund-raising - shaking down friends and colleagues, plus a recent party at his apartment that netted $3,000 - he has raised $8,000 so far. Nearly $3,000 of that has come from Dream Team members, who vowed to raise at least $100 apiece for the cause.

''Todd's commitment to supporting Hope Lodge will help us continue to provide services to families who are facing one of life's most difficult struggles, which is a cancer diagnosis,'' says Diane Casey, director of Hope Lodge.

Besides raising money, Rassiger has raised the consciousness of his friends and friends-of-friends. If he could set lofty goals, why couldn't they? Enter the Dream Team, which is subdivided into smaller units of five or six members, each with a coach who checks in weekly to measure progress and offer encouragement.

Mark Chalos, 27, is a team leader who grew up with Rassiger in East Norwich, Long Island. An attorney in Nashville, his goal is to read the Bible. ''I've never been a very religious person,'' he says, ''but I picked up the Bible and read the first chapter of Genesis, `Let there be light,' and I wanted to read on.'' So far, he has completed the Old Testament. ''It's been an enriching experience,'' he says.

Chalos says he also hopes Don Rassiger will realize the inspiration he has been to the Dream Team. ''Don has fought this illness with a tremendous amount of courage and dignity,'' says Chalos.

Todd Rassiger agrees: ''I figure if he can fight a life-threatening disease every day, I can run a marathon.'' Until January, Rassiger hadn't run more than a mile or two at a time. When he pulled himself out of his warm bed on frigid mornings to run, he began thinking of all the people in his life who had also put off goals. The Dream Team was born.

Charter members include his mother, Carolyn, his sister Kristen, and his father. Their goals? To lose 10 pounds. His father has achieved his goal, his mother and sister are ''almost there.''

Rassiger's roommate, Nick Regas, 27, decided to start his own motivational-speaking company. He has registered his company, Beyond Limits, with the state, made brochures, and recently gave his first speech, at Smith College, with two more lined up. (Still, he's not giving up his day job as a telecommunications business consultant.)

''I did a little speaking in college, and starting my own company was something I've always had in the back of my mind,'' he says. ''One of the things about the Dream Team is not just dreaming about it, but doing it. There are certain things in life you don't do because there's pain and challenge involved. But that doesn't move you forward.''

One of Regas's friends, Sarah Patch, joined the Dream Team to force herself to start a book she had been outlining on bar napkins. ''Don't get me wrong,'' she says, laughing. ''This is not going to be a major literary contribution to America.'' It is, in fact, going to be about the bar scene for the 20-something set, tentatively titled, ''Liam, I'll Have Another'' (after her favorite bartender).

So far, Patch and her coauthor have laid out and formatted the book. ''We've had so much fun learning about bar etiquette, it's been hilarious,'' says Patch, 27, who is a residence-life coordinator at Smith.

Roy Angel, who works at MassDevelopment with Rassiger, decided to do something big - really big - for his mother, since his father recently passed away. As a Mother's Day gift, he is taking her to see her two favorite baseball teams play each other: the Boston Red Sox vs. the Atlanta Braves, in Atlanta.

''She's been a huge fan of the Braves since they were in Boston,'' says Angel, 44. ''And we all grew up playing baseball.'' He's billing it as ''a getaway weekend.'' Mom won't know where they're headed until they're at the airport.

Craig Goodman of Scottsdale, Ariz., had something longer-term in mind: to change jobs. For a couple of years, he'd worked as a dispatcher for a medical transportation company, helping arrange trips to doctors and hospitals for senior citizens. It was a rewarding job, but not a career.

Two weeks ago, he started work at a communications company. ''I love it,'' says Goodman, 27. ''I got the job I wanted.'' He credits Rassiger, a childhood friend, with hectoring him into joining the Dream Team. ''It really motivated me,'' he says.

As for Rassiger's parents, they will be at the finish line today, watching as their son crosses it. (He'll be the one in the T-shirt that says, ''Running is my dream. What's yours?'')

''We're very proud of him,'' says Don Rassiger. ''But not surprised,'' adds Carolyn, noting that her son worked in a soup kitchen on Sundays while in high school, and helped counsel teens with substance-abuse problems. ''This is who he is,'' says his mother.

This story ran on page B7 of the Boston Globe on 4/16/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.


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