Dr. Daniel Pereles says that for his wife Susan, organizing the Cure Autism Now 5K Run and One Mile Fun Walk is “a labor of love.” As for Daniel, “I just show up and help her,” he says.
In recognition of their work organizing the race, now in its fifth year, Dr. and Mrs. Pereles are the winners of the 2004 Citizens of the Year award, handed out by the Potomac Chamber of Commerce in connection with Potomac Day. They will be honored along with the Businessperson of the Year and Youth of the Year winners at a Nov. 18 dinner at Normandie Farm.
Susan Pereles has been a runner since she was 10, “and it’s all because of my brother Mark who lives up in Boston,” she said.
When Mark’s son was diagnosed with autism four years ago, Pereles combined love of running with her desire to raise funds to find a cure for autism.
“I couldn’t help on a daily basis and I thought ‘What could I do?’” Pereles said. Organizing a race was a natural choice. “I called the Montgomery County Road Runners Club and the first thing the rep told me was, ‘You’re not really going to make a profit the first year,’” she said. That was a response Perles couldn’t accept.
In fact, the race raised more than $100,000 the first year, and both the profits and the number of participants has increased every year since then. The money comes from corporate sponsors and pledge fundraising by runners, and is donated to Cure Autism Now, a national organization.
“The cost to society of this ailment is just unbelievable,” said Rob Eisman, who is on the national board of CAN and who, together with his wife Beth, nominated the Pereleses for the award. Cases of autism have increased steadily over the past several decades, Eisman said. “If it continues on, this will basically be the largest childhood ailment.”
Families with autistic children face lifelong financial strain paying for treatment and caregivers, and general support for children who, in most cases, will never be able to live alone or earn money. Few can afford to donate time or money to autism research.
So efforts like Pereles’ go a long way, Eisman said.
“The amount of effort that Susan and Dan take to make this event happen is just unbelievable. And the commitment they show to this cause is really, really noteworthy,” he said. “It would be very easy to have done this once and said ‘I’m done.’ … They are a model for what good citizens should be.”
THE RACE BEGINS and ends at Potomac Library every year on the morning of Independence Day and draws about 1,600 people, about half of whom run and half of whom walk. It has become a highly regarded event among competitive runners in the area as well as families who simply come out to enjoy the food and atmosphere. ”It is a tradition now,” Pereles said.
The event incorporates more than 100 volunteers, dozens of sponsors, timers, race monitors, honorary officials, doctors and others. Organizing the event has become a full-time job for Pereles. She starts lining up sponsors in October, and becomes busier each day until the race. After the event she spends more than a month wrapping up and thanking people, takes off the month of September and starts over again.
The first year was the biggest challenge. “It does get easier every year,” Dr. Pereles said. “You try to correct the mistakes from the year before and you try to replicate the good things.”
“Susan [is] the most unselfish, wonderful person,” said Beth Eisman, who serves on the board of CAN’s Mid-Atlantic Chapter. “They’re out there giving all their blood and sweat for this — literally their sweat.”