Before the coronavirus pandemic, native New Yorker Leland Yu was working as a line cook at Insa, a Korean restaurant in Brooklyn. He was also pursuing a career as an NYC firefighter, which requires vigorous physical training.
“One of the things that I heard you had to do in the [FDNY Fire] Academy is run five miles every day,” Yu tells Yahoo Life. In February, it seemed likely that Yu might have a chance to enter the next FDNY Fire Academy class.
“Once I heard that, I started to ramp up my physical training,” Yu says. “And then of course, in March, the city shut down.”
As many restaurants across the city were forced to close, Yu was let go from his job.
“In my head, I just told myself, ‘I have this time, I’m going to test myself,’” Yu explains. In March, Yu went from running five miles a few times a week to a running half marathon, which is just over 13 miles, in one day.
Yu did that only twice before deciding to try a 21-mile run, which was when he was struck by an idea. “I thought to myself, how can I help [others] by doing something that I enjoy?” Yu says.
Raised in New York City’s Chinatown, Yu recognized the impact of COVID-19 on the community, where businesses had already taken a significant hit even before the pandemic started.
Yu decided to do a fundraising run for Welcome to Chinatown, an organization supporting Chinatown businesses and NYC frontline workers and asked friends and family to pledge $1 for every mile he completed.
On May 1, to kick off Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Yu ran a total of 61.66 miles around New York City in 12 hours.
“One of the things I kept telling myself was, every mile that I run is a dollar more per person that will donate,” Yu says.
In the end, with some donors contributing up to $5 per mile, Yu raised $24,646 for Welcome to Chinatown, which used the funds for their Feed Our Heroes initiative. The initiative supports local Chinatown restaurants by purchasing meals to feed NYC essential and frontline healthcare workers.
“It’s a great feeling, honestly,” Yu says. But he doesn’t give himself all the credit.
“I know that I was the one doing the run,” says Yu. “But we had maybe 300 unique donors who donated on my behalf. So, you know, this really wouldn't be a story without all the people that contributed.”
As for how it felt to finish the run, Yu says, “Probably the best feeling was when I finally got to the Manhattan Bridge. In the middle of the bridge, the sun was strong, and it felt really good on my skin … and then back to Chinatown. It felt so good.”
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