Long Islander runs marathons to support veterans

- By 7 o'clock Tuesday morning, Eva Casale had already run three miles.

"I've been honored to be able to use this gift, this passion of mine, running, to use this gift to help others," she says.

The 51-year-old athlete has completed more than 57 marathons and 35 ultra-marathons. She's not done. Starting Saturday, she is running the equivalent of seven marathons in seven days. A distance close to 200 miles -- more than most people drive in a week.

"The message is really think about those out there who we've lost, and who have put their lives on the line to protect us," Eva says.

She's running for a reason: to raise $100,000 for Hope for the Warriors. The organization provides support programs for service members, veterans and their families. She's mapped out seven routes in Suffolk County, asking runners to donate and join in.

"For me their energy, the last 7 miles, keeps me going," she says.

On the third day, Eva will be running from Islandia through the Town of Islip to honor their fallen heroes. Four of the servicemen killed fighting for our country graduated in Brentwood. One of them was Army Spc. Raheen Tyson Heighter, the first soldier from Long Island killed in Iraq.

"I still think of him every day. I talk about him every day as if he was still here," Cathy Heighter, Raheen's mother, says. "And that's why I'm so happy that I am surrounded by the veteran community here in [Florida]."

"It's important for people to understand that our veterans are out there helping us to protect us," Eva says. "And that's why I'm out there doing this."

As she puts it, she's just a woman in a pair of running shoes, trying to make a difference.

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