Some worked on Veterans Day. Others ran errands or attended ceremonies. Still others just stayed home on the couch. But Chris Cuddihy of Riverside did none of those things.
Chris Cuddihy ran.
In a 24-hour period — from 4 p.m. Wednesday to 4 p.m. Thursday — Mr. Cuddihy jogged approximately 81 miles in downtown Riverhead, trotting along the riverfront and the south side of Main Street, over and over again, 108 times.
He did so to raise money and awareness for The Veterans Place, a Yaphank shelter for homeless veterans. Many of those veterans, as well as others, came to the waterfront to encourage him — and, in some cases, to run alongside him. John Lynch, chief executive officer of Suffolk County United Veterans, which operates the shelter, also met Mr. Cuddihy as he finished the run, and then walked a lap with him.
Mr. Cuddihy estimated that between $1,500 and $2,000 was raised. A Southampton attorney pledged $400, he noted. Contributions were made by PayPal or credit card on the SCUV website, through canned food donations collected at the site and through monetary donations collected in a jar on site.
Mr. Cuddihy said he took breaks at midnight and at 4 a.m. and ran — and sometimes walked — the rest of the time. The 81 miles is just over three marathons. His son, Ryan, said that after Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter mentioned what his father was doing in a Veterans Day speech that morning, people began coming down to the riverfront to talk to his dad or run with him. Ryan and physical therapist Ronnie Desiderio stayed on-site the entire 24 hours.
Mr. Cuddihy said he was an “avid anti-war protester” when he was young and was not picked in the draft during the Vietnam War. While he never served in the military himself, he said he now feels the treatment of veterans from that war was wrong.
Mr. Lynch said he’s grateful for Mr. Cuddihy’s efforts, a sentiment echoed by several residents of The Veterans Place who came down to the riverfront.
“I’ve been in The Vet’s Place for three months now. I was in the Navy for six years,” said Francisco Suarez, 33, who was among those veterans on hand to support Mr. Cuddihy Thursday, which was Veterans Day. “I’m thankful for people like Chris, who’s doing this run for us. It takes a lot for somebody to run around for 24 hours and not think of himself, but just think of others who need help.”
Mr. Suarez said he was “gung ho” to join the Navy after he got out of school and had lived on submarines in the Mediterranean and the North Sea. He left the Navy in 2002 and had a steady job until about 2009, when the economy went bad. He had been living with his brother, but wanted to move on, and ended up in The Veterans Place.
Donald Lyons said he was actually homeless and living in the streets of Riverhead before moving into The Veterans Place. He would live under a car well behind a downtown building to keep warm, but decided the weather was too cold and went to The Veterans Place, where he’s lived for about 18 month.
“I was taking care of an elderly person, and the elderly person died,” Mr. Lyons said. “She died just as the economy was bottoming out, so my job was gone and my place to live was gone.”
He found that the jobs he was good at, such as well drilling and commercial fishing, “no longer existed” and he had used up his savings.
Mr. Lyons spent three years in the Army in the 1970s, stationed in Germany. He said The Veterans Place is “clean and structured and they help you get back on your feet through education and work programs.”
He’s now driving the van that takes vets to various places, including downtown Riverhead on Thursday to support Mr. Cuddihy.
Mr. Lynch said that, except for himself, The Veterans Place is run entirely by homeless vets.
The website for Mr. Cuddihy’s Riverfront 24 run, as it was called, includes a link to the SCUV website, where donations can be made directly to The Veteran’s Place.
That web address is http://riverfront24.weebly.com.