Fri Sep 30 12:22am EDT
Like many cynics during VCU's improbable run from the First Four to the Final Four last March, Connecticut resident Mike Duda gave the Rams zero chance to topple top-seeded Kansas in the Elite Eight.
Even after VCU stormed to a 17-10 lead in the game's opening minutes, an incredulous Duda tweeted, "If they win this game, I will run a half-marathon for someone's charity in North America. And I h-a-t-e running."
That ill-fated statement is why Duda is paying a far greater price for VCU's 71-61 upset than simply having his hopes of winning his office pool dashed. The 40-year-old is currently training to run the New York City Marathon on Nov. 6 despite previously never having attempted a run longer than three miles.
"Having played basketball all my life, I'm used to running only when I'm being punished," Duda said. "Kansas was a really good team, so I thought there was no way that lead was going to hold up. Moral of the story is never bet against a coach named Shaka or a coach willing to dive for loose balls in practice."
Many people would have laughed off the tweet as a joke or waited for their friends to inevitably forget about it after a few days, but Duda embraced the opportunity to raise money for charity. He even agreed to double the distance when presented with a worthy cause two months later.
Duda's wife lost her 44-year-old mother to brain cancer when she was in middle school, so she remains involved with an organization that funds brain cancer research grants called B*CURED. When B*CURED members informed Duda they could secure a place in the New York City Marathon for him, he decided the chance to raise more money and run in one of the world's most famous races was worth the extra 13.1 miles of punishment.
"If I'm dumb enough to make a bet on Twitter to run a half marathon, maybe I'm smart enough to double down, make more money and run a once-in-a-lifetime race," Duda said. "Brain cancer is the second-leading cause of death in cancer among kids under 20 or people from 20-29, so it's not something we'll get when we're 80 or 85. We have twin boys that are 5 and one that's 8 months. To know that they're as likely candidates to get it as I am, it made it an easy decision."
Despite suffering a six-week setback in his training when he tore his calf muscle playing basketball in his driveway in mid-June, Duda has already run 13 or 14 miles several times and hopes to increase that to 18 on Saturday morning. That's impressive for someone who willingly admits his stocky frame is ill-suited to distance running and who says if you look up the word "running" in the dictionary, he's "the antonym."
"I'm still waiting to get this famous runner's high," Duda joked. "It's not something I'll do again, but it's worth it. I've got to own up to it. I'm not afraid to embarrass myself, but if I don't finish this thing I'll be more embarrassed even if I have to crawl to do it."
A lifelong Syracuse fan who calls the Orange's victory in the 2003 national title game one of the best moments of his life, Duda knows what he'll tweet the next time VCU's an underdog in an NCAA tournament game.
Says Duda, "Next time I'll say, 'If VCU wins this game, then Syracuse is going to win the national championship next year.'"
In a little more than a week, Duda has raised almost $7,400 toward his goal of at least $25,000 for B*CURED. For more information on donating, click here.