SALEM, N.H. — Officer Joey DeFeudis will fly 5,000 miles across the country in October. When the 43-year-old lands in Honolulu, Hawaii, he'll swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and then run a full marathon, 26.2 miles, without stopping.
The event is the Ironman World Championship, renowned as a daunting physical undertaking for elite athletes. Besides a strict training plan, DeFeudis will rely on the memory of his late mother — who was thrust into a 6-month battle with leukemia — to carry him across the finish line.
He describes her with a few words — incredible, fighter and strong.
Soon after Deborah DeFeudis' death in 2015, at age 63, her son partnered with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to raise money for research. His major fundraising efforts have included the Boston Marathon in 2016 and again in 2018. That same year, he took on Marine Corps Marathon.
DeFeudis is calling on the North Andover community he lives in and the Salem, New Hampshire, area he polices to help him raise $100,000 before the Ironman endeavor this fall.
Many know about his goal of wiping out the blood cancer that took his beloved mother. It's fueled by a motto that he would tell her during treatments: "We are going to get through this."
The illness took its toll on her quickly, starting Christmas Eve 2014 with an incorrect diagnosis of "a touch of pneumonia," DeFeudis said.
Deborah DeFeudis landed in an emergency room the day after Christmas, only feeling worse as she faced another doctor.
"Judging by the look on the ER doctor’s face, I knew something was coming," her son said. "It didn’t take long, and after a deep breath, the doctor began to explain what the normal range of a healthy person’s white blood cell count should be at (11,000 to 14,000). My mother’s was at over 114,000."
It was leukemia, the doctors said.
DeFeudis recalls thinking, "nightmares are meant to wake up from. This one is as real and frightening as it gets, and the person who has been with me since day one and who I love the most was submerged in it."
Two hours after the diagnosis, Deborah DeFeudis was receiving chemotherapy and had a treatment plan in place, her son said.
Six grueling months later, one fight ended and another began.
"I decided that I was going to get the most out of life by staying in the fight," DeFeudis said. "It's time for a cure, and organizations like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society are doing incredible work."
DeFeudis will continue to train at the gym inside the Salem Police Department, and at a local facility with a pool, until the weather gets nicer and he can hit the roadways. He plans to host several community fundraising events in the coming months, the details of which have yet to be finalized.
Through it all, he feels the support of his department and his community.
"The Salem Police Department is proud to support Joey and his cause," Capt. Joel Dolan said. "His passion to raise money in his late mother's name shows his character and serves as motivation and inspiration to all."
Anyone who wants to donate to the cause can visit heart4cures.com.