Charleston Post and Courier

19 June 1999

by Jeff Hartzell


Singer, teacher Cusatis runs for good cause

             A man of many talents, John Cusatis once coached the St. John’s High track team to a state championship, teaches music and is familiar as a guitar-strumming singer to patrons of Lowcountry bars and CD stores.

            Marathon running, however, has yet to appear on his resume.  That will change this weekend, when Cusatis and a group of Lowcountry runners compete in a marathon in Anchorage, Alaska.

            Cusatis, 35, and girlfriend Anna Johnson have raised about $9,000 for the Leukemia Society of America through the Team in Training program, which sends runners to marathons around the country.

            Cusatis and other members of the Charleston Team in Training will run in the Mayor’s Midnight Sun marathon today in Anchorage.

            The adventure is a happy merger of Cusatis’ long-time plan to visit Alaska, a recent resolution to run a marathon and a Leukemia Society brochure that founds its way to his mailbox.

            “I decided last December that I wanted to run a marathon this year, and I had always wanted to go to Alaska,” he said.  “And when I got this flier in the mail from the Leukemia Society, it just all came together.”

            The Team in Training program sends runners to marathons around the country, if they can earn a minimum of $3,600 in donations to the Leukemia Society.

            Cusatis thought he could double that.

            “We raised most of it from letters to friends and family” Cusatis said.

            But Cusatis, whose songs have been played on local radio stations, raised the biggest lump sum with a 14-band concert on Bowen’s Island.  The “Rockin’ for Life” show raised $2,500 for the cause.

            A fund-raiser at James Island High netted $1,200 and patrons at local bars and clubs where Cusatis plays also contributed.

            In retrospect, raising the money might have been the easy part.  There was also the matter of getting in shape to run a 26.2-mile marathon.

            “I ran a half-marathon in 1979, but that’s the closest I’ve come to a marathon,” laughed Cusatis, a native of Hazleton, PA.

            Cusatis ran with his students while coaching their St. John’s High track team to a state title in 1995.

            While at St. John’s, he recorded a compact disc called April Days that still can be found in local stores.

            Lately, though, he’s busy commuting to Columbia to earn a graduate degree in English at South Carolina, and plans to return to teaching next year at the Charleston County School for the Arts.

            “Since December, I’ve been running between four and 10 miles a day during the week,” he said.

            “On the weekend, I try to run 12 to 20 miles, and I lost 25 pounds during the first two months.”

            “They tell you not to exceed 20 miles a day in training.  Last week, I did 20 miles downtown with the team, and I felt like I could run another six when we were finished.”

            “The last week, they tell you to cut way back and get some rest.”

            John Planty and Mechele Burns are the coaches of the Charleston Team in Training.  Each of the 17 members of the Team in Training runs in honor of a Lowcountry leukemia patient.  Cusatis is running for 8-year-old Will Austin of Moncks Corner, and Johnson for 6-year-old Katy Herron of Goose Creek.

            “This particular charity really appealed to me,” Cusatis said.  “I’ve been close to some people who have had leukemia, some students of mine.  It always has seemed to me the most loathsome disease, because it strikes so many children.”

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