A Staten Island woman has raised over $10,000 in a little more than a month as she prepares to run the New York City Half Marathon in memory of her cousin, FDNY firefighter Steven Pollard.
When Alison Reilly found out her cousin died in the line of duty earlier this year, she said her first instinct was to get up and run.
“I got up and I literally ran because it was sit around and be sad or – it helped me. It was something that helped me grieve,” she said.
Pollard, 30, died on Jan. 6 when he fell more than 50 feet through a gap in the Belt Parkway’s Mill Basin bridge while responding to a two-car crash. A tearful Reilly described him as a “gentle giant” who was more than just a cousin – he was a friend.
“He would give anybody the shirt off his back. His family and his friends were his No. 1 priority, and that’s just the guy he was,” she added.
As Reilly and her family continued to mourn Pollard, the 29-year-old preschool special education teacher said it was fate that led her to running the half-marathon on his behalf.
No stranger to long-distance running, Reilly ran the New York City Marathon in 2011 and has completed several 5Ks and half-marathons in recent years. She had already been thinking about running another marathon before she turned 30 in November. Then, Pollard suddenly passed away.
“I came home one day after running and pulled open Instagram . . . and there was this ad that said ‘you can run the New York City Half [Marathon] for Answer the Call.’ So, I was like, well, there’s all the sign that I need,” she said. “It became, for me, some way of giving back.”
Reilly is among 15 people who are running the half-marathon on Sunday on team “Answer the Call,” which is raising money for the NY Police & Fire Widows & Children’s Benefit Fund.
The organization provides the families of fallen FDNY, NYPD and PAPD members immediate and long-term financial and emotional support. When Pollard died, the benefit fund stepped in to help his grieving family.
In 2019, the organization expects to help nearly 600 families and distribute over $4 million.
Reilly has been involved with the charity for three years, long before her cousin’s death. As the wife of a firefighter, it’s a cause that is close to her heart.
“You hear all of these terrible stories and you say, ‘It’s not going to happen to me, it can’t happen to us. And then it becomes your reality,’” she said. “When you see what they do for these families – not just in those first few weeks, in the years following – it’s incredible what they do.”
As the donations continue to pour in, Reilly said she is grateful for all the support she’s received in her journey to honor her cousin’s life.
“I just think when you lose someone so tragically, everybody felt like they wanted to do something to help and this was a way for people to feel like they were doing something,” she said of those who donated. “I truly don’t think that I’m doing anything spectacular. I just wanted to honor Steve and that was the best way I knew how, was to give back.”