Erol Bal and his dad Ekrem.
Another photo of Erol Bal and his dad Ekrem.
Woodhaven's Erol Bal training for the marathon.
Among the many people you see running through the streets of Queens, keep your eyes open and you're bound to see Woodhaven’s Erol Bal training hard to run in November’s New York City Marathon, a 26-mile race that requires a tremendous amount of strength and motivation.
We caught up with Erol back in March when he first began his training. He explained that he was running for his father, Ekrem, who was battling cancer.
“I started running right after my dad was diagnosed,” Erol explained. “For me it was just a way to cope, a good way to clear my head both mentally and physically. And after a while, I started going on longer and longer runs.”
Ekrem Bal was diagnosed in 2013 with small cell and non-small cell lung cancer. But despite the illness and the toll that the treatment was taking on his body, Ekrem Bal was determined not to let it derail his life.
“He’s so strong, and it’s an inspiration to me,” Erol said. “A few months ago, I had bronchitis and I felt like I was dying, I couldn’t go to work! Yet, here’s this man who has been through nine stages of chemotherapy, over 19 different stages of radiation, and he wakes up at 6 am each morning, has a cup of coffee and drives into the city to go to work. Nothing fazes him.”
Erol also has high praise for the team at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
“Their motto is ‘Less fear, more science’ and they live up to that,” he said. “They’re the greatest doctors I’ve ever encountered in my life. They tell you what they are going to do and they explain it to you in depth.
“They make you feel confident, they make you feel loved through the hope and optimism they bring to the table,” he added.
This led Erol to begin training for the marathon, running as part of “Fred’s Team,” named after NYC Marathon founder Fred Lebow, who died in 1994 after being diagnosed with brain cancer.
Since 1995, members of Fred’s Team have competed in marathons, half-marathons, triathlons, bike races and other endurance events and raised over $52 million for Sloan-Kettering.
Erol’s goal was to raise $3,500 by November, with all proceeds going directly to the hospital and towards cancer research.
Shortly after we spoke in March, Ekrem Bal’s condition took a turn for the worse and on Saturday, April 16, he passed away, surrounded by his family.
“We all loved him so much,” Erol says. “He battled lung cancer for three years as if it was a minor cold. I can only try and live up to his standards and be the best man I can be.”
Erol did not allow the grief to derail his pledge to prepare for the marathon. Instead, the strength his father showed inspired him to never give up. He soon competed in a 10K race and then the Brooklyn Half-marathon.
In turn, his strength and determination inspired others, and by June he had cruised past his initial goal of $3,500. Since then, the donations have kept on coming.
“This charity means a lot to me,” Erol said. “Back in February I set out with a goal and come November I will complete it. For those who have lost and for those who are still fighting, I will cross that finish line because I imagine a world without cancer and these donations are making that possible.”
As for the training, Erol is running regularly (even through this recent heatwave) and setting personal records nearly every day. And with every step, he is getting closer to his goal of competing and finishing in the greatest of all marathons.
Erol Bal runs through the streets of Woodhaven by himself, but he never runs alone. He’s got his dad by his side every step of the way, giving him strength and encouragement.
They’re running for everyone who ever suffered from cancer or who lost a loved one to this dreaded disease. Be a part of the team offering Erol encouragement; if you see him on the streets of Woodhaven, give him a wave and shout “Go Erol!”
If you would like to make a donation, you can do so by visiting fredsteam.org and searching for Erol Bal under “Participant,” or you can go directly to Erol’s page at bit.ly/Erol-Bal.