‘RunTownieRun’ gives O’Grady purpose, perspective

Inspirational trek tributes his late mother, supports EBCAP effort

By Mike Rego
Posted 10/20/20

EAST PROVIDENCE — Some seven months ago, city native Steve O'Grady began a tribute to his late mother Janet by running every possible street he could in East Providence. On a brisk fall …

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‘RunTownieRun’ gives O’Grady purpose, perspective

Inspirational trek tributes his late mother, supports EBCAP effort

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE — Some seven months ago, city native Steve O'Grady began a tribute to his late mother Janet by running every possible street he could in East Providence. On a brisk fall afternoon Sunday, Oct. 11, he, with the support of several friends, completed his effort by traversing the roads in "The Terrace" neighborhood of Riverside.

For O'Grady, the running began as a bit of relief as he cared for his ailing mother, who passed away in April of 2020 after a brief illness. Though it was non-COVID-19 related, restrictions placed on remembering loved ones due to the pandemic did hamper the family's ability to acknowledge her life accordingly.

Taking to the streets gave O'Grady a chance to do so in a meaningful way. He set up a GoFundMe page, donating all the proceeds to the East Providence Community Action Program where his mother was a volunteer as a foster grandparent for HeadStart.

"I had been living with her and taking care of her in the same house I grew up in," O'Grady explained. "For exercise, I would often run from the house on very non-exciting and perfunctory loops in and around my neighborhood.

"After she passed our family was unable to properly honor her with a wake and funeral because of the pandemic. To help me grieve and cope as well as to keep me exercising, I came up with a unique idea to honor my mom, a lifelong 'Townie.' I decided to run every street in East Providence. I call my journey 'RunTownieRun.’”

O’Grady explained Janet never strayed far from her East Providence roots, growing up on Brightridge Avenue then moving to the family’s home a few miles away where she raised Steve and his two brothers, Michael and Kevin, instilling them with a sense of “service.” It’s also where she cared for her ailing husband James prior to his death, then later did the same for her mother Eleanor all the while working at Rhode Island Hospital, where she helped establish a collective bargaining unit as part of the Teamster's Local 251.

When Janet retired, Steve said volunteering for EBCAP gave her “purpose the last few years of her life.” And that his mother was an example of seniors who “want to do something when they think they’re ‘done.’”

O'Grady started his tribute trek on April 14 in Rumford, working his way south through the city running each neighborhood in 3-to-6 mile chunks, two or three times per week. He recorded and wrote a journal about his endeavor on Strava, a social media site for runners. By October 11, he had completed 60 runs over 809 streets for a total of 275 miles and 33 hours, 23 minutes of actually time running.

“I’m feeling a sense of satisfaction for completion,” O’Grady said on the final day. “It was quite a journey and at the planning, to plan out the routes, it’s a little bit daunting. But it’s been nice. The whole time it’s allowed me to think about my mom and my heritage here in East Providence. It’s helped me to grieve. It’s helped me to rejuvenate. And it’s really heartened me to deal with the folks as I started to raise money for the East Bay Community Action Foster Grandparents program. They were so appreciative. I didn’t realize how much these resources mean to them. It’s been a real terrific event.

O'Grady felt it fitting to choose EBCAP as his charity for obvious reasons and to help assist the non-profit begin a new youth initiative as a means of expanding its offerings during the pandemic and beyond.

"Due to COVID, they have had to curtail the use of foster grandparents in the classrooms for the near term, but this has not stopped those seniors that volunteer from still helping out," O'Grady said. "There is a plan to build out community library book shares for kids. When the idea came up, EBCAP wasn't sure where they would get the funds to support it. That's about the time that I alerted them of my intentions to raise money for the program. They plan to use the contributions from the 'RunTownieRun' to support this new program."

As explained by Diane Palmer, EBCAP’s foster grandparent program coordinator, and Kim Weatherald, EPCAP director of volunteer services, the monies raised by O’Grady will allow for the purchase and placing of two “little free libraries” for children at group locations on Willett Avenue, where Mrs. O’Grady volunteered, and Bullocks Point Avenue. The “little free libraries” will be dedicated in Janet O’Grady’s name and managed by foster grandparents.

O’Grady also finished his journey with a greater appreciation for the city in which he grew up, returned to in care of his mother and will remain for the near future. He took to giving each individual run a name like “Ghosts of Gansett Park,” “Climbing the Hills of Dover,” “Not ‘Lyon’ About the Pierce and Parkway Views” and “Traversing the Trail.”

“It’s been a great experience. I ran every single corner, every single street, I ran by every single home and East Providence is a really great city,” he said. “It’s clean. I never felt that I was ever in a neighborhood where I was unsafe. Some people will say it’s not the East Providence I grew up, well I say it is the East Providence I grew up in. It’s a beautiful city. I’ve really been pleased with what I’ve seen. And it’s interesting as an adult to look back at the history of our city. It’s heritage. That’s another thing that’s been heartening. It’s a good city. It’s a good place.”

O'Grady ended his runs having raised just about half of his $2,000 goal. To contribute or lean more about his effort visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/runtownierun. Besides that from family, friends and co-workers, he also acknowledged the support of his undertaking from city-based Teamsters Local 251 and Graphic Inc.

2020 by East Bay Newspapers

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.