Diana Wenrich will be dressing in purple when she gets up before dawn on Nov. 5 and makes her way to Staten Island, New York, to participate in the 47th New York City Marathon.
Besides her Project Purple race jersey, the Winter Garden resident will also put on her purple motivate bracelet — all in honor of her stepfather, Tom Gulcynski. And when she runs past her family and friends who are there to encourage her to keep going in the 26.2-mile race,
they all will be wearing purple, too.
Wenrich said Gulcynski has been like a father to her and her sister since she was 10 years old. He instilled in them a strong work ethic, was a huge motivator and was always encouraging and supportive of them; yet he always respected their biological father and never overshadowed his role, she said.
When Wenrich got married, both of her fathers walked her down the aisle. When Gulcynski retired five years ago, he and Wenrich's mother, Eneida, moved to Florida to be closer to their grandchildren.
It's Wenrich's turn now to show her support and encouragement as Gulcynski battles stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
He received the diagnosis in January, and surgery was not an option because the cancer had already spread to his liver. Immediately, Wenrich started looking for a charity that supports this fight.
“Being a runner, I knew I could make my miles count and found Project Purple,” she said.
She was drawn to the caring CEO and staff, who take the time to learn about the runners and their loved ones. She said it feels like she has inherited a caring family.
“As soon as I was accepted into the Project Purple NYC Marathon team, I started team #purple4papa and encouraged all of our friends and family to wear purple on Wednesdays to encourage him and send him into chemo with high spirits,” Wenrich said.
Friends and family have stuck with it, and each week her dad's Facebook page is flooded with photographs and messages. Her running group wears purple and dedicates “purple power miles” to him each Wednesday. And many of the staff members at SunRidge Elementary School don purple on Wednesdays.
“I am both humbled and grateful for the love and support that fills my dad's heart week after week,” she said.
Gulcynski's only option currently is to continue chemotherapy as long as his body can handle it, she said. He is on a chemotherapy schedule of two weeks on the treatment and then one week off.
Wenrich said he looks strong, has a good appetite, can take care of his fish tank and, most importantly, is able to spend time with his grandchildren.
“My goal at the beginning was to show my dad how much love and support he has from friends and family, which would motivate him to keep fighting,” she said.
“My dad has always encouraged me to complete everything I do with 100% effort,” Wenrich said. “He worked for Ford Motor Company for 39 years and, even in retirement, continues to be very well-respected and admired by all of his colleagues.
“At home, he encouraged my sister and (me) to excel at school and always be self sufficient,” she said. “My dad has instilled a work ethic in me that I have carried into adulthood. To this day, I always try to reach just beyond my comfort zone and then work my tail off to accomplish any task I take on — this marathon, for example.”
Her training for the marathon started in July, and she is in the thick of her training now.
“When the running gets hard, I tell myself 'it's not cancer, it's not chemo, this is a blessing.' … I always wear my purple motivate band to remind me that 'every day is a gift.'”