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Man runs 5K every day in streets while holding American flag to thank vets, first responders

The American flag flies prominently during the World Patriot Tour performance at Hickam Air Force Base. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Dennis Cantrell)

A Mayfield Heights man has taken to the streets for nearly 50 straight days to show his respect for U.S. military veterans and first responders. While on the streets, Joe Longano has run each day about 5 kilometers while holding an American flag.

Longano will reach his goal of 50 consecutive days on Monday, Oct. 5 but, a day earlier, the city has some special plans for him.

When asked about the inspiration for such action, the 50-year-old said, \u2033I’ve always had the highest respect for our veterans and first responders and I just felt that, in today’s society, they’re getting lost in the shuffle and I wanted to bring back a little awareness to honor them and the sacrifices they make every day.

“I’m trying not to get too political with it, but a lot of its stems from the (recent) disrespect to the flag.”

On Sunday, Oct. 4, the city will turn the tables and acknowledge Longano. Beginning at 9 a.m. Oct. 4, approximately 50 runners are expected to gather on Temple Avenue to accompany Longano as he runs from Temple to Mayfield Road, then to Chelmsford Road and City Park. In addition, Longano will receive an escort from safety forces as he and the others run. At 10 a.m., a ceremony will be held at the park’s gazebo. Mayor Anthony DiCicco, veterans and safety forces will recognize Longano for his efforts with a proclamation of thanks. The community is invited to participate.

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Longano began his 50-day self-challenge on Aug. 17. He said he sometimes runs as early as 5:30 a.m., and other times later in the day, when he completes his work at Minuteman HR, where he serves as a workers compensation consultant. A runner for about 10 years, Longano said he has run in eight half-marathons.

“I wanted to come up with a challenge for myself, something that would require a commitment every day,” he said of the thought process behind the 5K runs, for which he chooses a different route each day. The routes, he said, can vary from four miles, to six.

Each day before leaving on his run with his flag, his wife of 23 years, Michele, or a neighbor takes a photo of Longano. In this time of political division, Longano said he has, nevertheless, been well-received when he is seen running down the street.

“The response has been 95-percent positive,” he said. “Some people will yell, ‘Good work,’ or ‘God bless America.’” Longano didn’t want to speak about the negative reactions, but when pressed, said he has heard from two or three people passing in cars who have shouted an expletive at him and/or the flag. Of the negative people, Longano states, “I don’t know what brought them to that.”

The Enfield Drive resident’s family also consists of daughters Julianna, 20, and Francesca, 17, as well as yellow Labrador retriever, Buddy.

“Myself and my daughters are very proud of him,” wife, Michele said. “He’s the type of person that, whatever he puts his mind to, he’s going to finish. And, it’s been a rough journey. Some days it hasn’t been easy, like on Labor Day (Sept. 7) when it was torrential rain, he still went out. When he’s ready to go, he’s ready to go.

“Most of our neighbors are very supportive,” she said. “They’ve taken pictures of him and they’ve all wanted to be part of what he’s doing. Everyone’s been very positive.”

One of those neighbors is Council President Diane Snider. “I want to congratulate and honor Joe for his true dedication to our veterans and first responders,” Snider said. “Giving of yourself like he did, carrying the flag around for the past 50 days, is true dedication.

“I’m not sure if I have ever known anyone to do this before and I am proud to say he is from our own ‘Hometown.’” Snider was referring to the city’s ‘Hometown Heroes’ program, which she was instrumental in starting. The program features the photos of Mayfield Heights residents who served in the armed forces pictures on banners hung along Mayfield Road from Memorial Day until Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

“I can’t wait to stand along Mayfield Road on Sunday (Oct. 4) and root him on,” Snider said. “Thank you, Joe.”

Longano has not served in the military or as a member of the safety forces, but his respect for those who have led him to say, when thinking about the honor the city is about t o pay him, “I don’t want the fuss to be about me. I want the focus to remain on the vets and first responders.

“If I could send one message, it would be that if you see a vet or first responder, thank them for their service.”

Joe Longano suggests that anyone wishing to support the wellness of veterans make a donation to Team RWB at teamrwb.org.

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