No Distance Too Long to Support Childhood Cancer Research

Resurrection Parish CYO track coach James Ditucci-Cappiello ran the Rock the Ridge 50-mile race to support the Gianna Effect Foundation. (Photo: Courtesy of James Ditucci-Cappiello)

Running a marathon is a superhuman feat.

Now imagine running back-to-back marathons! It’s no wonder James Ditucci-Cappiello has struggled walking up and down stairs the past few weeks.

It’s true: On May 6, the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) track coach at Resurrection parish, Gerritsen Beach, joined his fellow Prospect Park Track Club members to participate in Rock the Ridge, a 50-mile endurance challenge set in the natural beauty of the Shawangunk Mountains of the Hudson Valley.

Really all that can be said here is “wow.” What makes this accomplishment even more meaningful is that Ditucci-Cappiello ran the race to support a cause close to his heart.

Ditucci-Cappiello, who has run 36 marathons, attended Resurrection’s grammar school and started the parish’s CYO track team in 2008. Over the years, he has coached doz- ens upon dozens of runners, yet one young girl close to the program has had a lasting impact.

In 2019, Gianna Gambino, who was a good friend of a Resurrection track runner, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare form of pediatric cancer. For two years, Gianna battled so hard each day – always with a tremendous smile on her face. In February 2021, she passed away at the age of 12.

Gianna’s parents, parishioners of Good Shepherd, Marine Park, Carl and Jillian Gambino, started The Gianna Effect Foundation, a non- profit 501(c)(3) organization that aims to shine a light on the difficult journey families face when their child is diagnosed with a rare pediatric cancer. The goal is to provide monetary assistance to parents burdened with financial stress so that they can focus on valuable family time.

Ditucci-Cappiello, affectionately known as “Coach Cap,” decided that he would dedicate his 50-mile run to the foundation. In April, the parish hosted a benefit event that raised more than $6,500 to support the cause.

This was Coach Cap’s second 50-mile race, with the first in 2021 supporting St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. After an intense 16-week train- ing program, he was proud to finish with a time of 10 hours and 29 minutes, which was about a half hour faster than his 2021 time. In running, 30 minutes is an eternity.

Throughout the hilly course, Ditucci-Cappiello was guided by Gianna’s spirit. Running 50 miles through mountains undoubtedly takes discipline, endurance, and sheer will. However, a little divine intervention certainly helps, and for Coach Cap, that was Gianna.

“There’s a lot of satisfaction knowing that in a small way, I’m able to contribute a little bit to trying to make some people’s lives better,” said Ditucci-Cappiello, who works as an assistant chief in the Fugitive Investigation Division of the New York State Department of Corrections while also being a professor of sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

“The theme of our CYO team has always been, ‘No matter what, never give up.’ The other 50 kids on the team were rooting for me to finish, and I didn’t want to let them down. We never quit, and that was Gianna’s story too.”

Gianna’s three siblings — Lucia, 12; Briella, 9; and Carl, 8 — all run for the Resurrection CYO track team. The family is grateful to Coach Cap for raising awareness about the foundation’s good works while setting such a positive example to all the runners on the team.

“We strive to be like Gianna in going through our journey with the foundation,” Jillian said. “If we could help a family going through this just like Coach Cap pushed himself to run 50 miles, it’s full circle. We always want to do better in giving families something to smile about or help in any way we can.”

Already, Coach Cap is focused on the next set of races – all of which will support The Gianna Effect Foundation. He just ran the Brooklyn Half Marathon, and he’s registered for this fall’s New York City Marathon. Resurrection’s annual Dan’s 5K race in September will also benefit the foundation.

No matter what, Gianna never gave up. Her family now carries on her spirit through the organization that bears her name. Learn more at

The foundation has passed along that never- give-up attitude to families in need, and Coach Cap, who went above and beyond the call by running 50 miles through the mountains, is at the forefront of raising needed awareness for the cause.

That’s truly Gianna at work. More specifically, that’s Gianna’s inspirational smile at work.

Contact Jim Mancari via email at