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By Jeb Bing

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About this blog: A longtime newspaperman, I have been editor of the Pleasanton Weekly since it was launched Jan. 28, 2000. I was a reporter and Neighborhood News editor at the Chicago Tribune for 13 years, and previously a reporter for the Advance...  (More)

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SafeAmerica's top walker for cancer research

Uploaded: Aug 21, 2009
For John Gracyalny, a walk around the track almost never ends, especially if you're the one joining him on his daily jaunt.

It's almost as if he leads two very different lives. As director of information technology for SafeAmerica Credit Union on Gibraltar Drive, the sixth largest credit union in the East Bay, he's focused as you'd expect IT managers to be on screens, wires, connections, programs and software that keep customer transactions and the company's $315 million in assets safe and secure at its headquarters and six branch offices. Then at 6 p.m., he emerges for the start of a 5-or-10 miles walk along the streets of Hacienda Business Park, giving traffic time to thin out for his commute to the rustic environment of Brookdale, deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains where he lives.

Gracyalny developed a passion for walking--not jogging--as a Boy Scout in Connecticut where he grew up. His dad, Edward, who died of cancer three years ago, would join him on Scout hikes, but not overnight camping, telling his son that he's had enough "overnights" as a soldier fighting his way across Germany in World War II.

The joy of walking and the mental health strength Gracyalny has found that long distance walking brings had stayed with him ever since, including one walk he made from Knoxville to Chattanooga, Tenn. 30 years ago. Most days, however, he takes shorter walks, stretching them out to 15 to 20 miles on Saturdays and Sundays. He prefers the walks in Pleasanton, where he used to live, because Brookdale has few sidewalks and there are only inches to spare from passing cars while walking on Hwy. 9.

Gracyalny, 56, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, admits that he slacked off walking a bit after moving to rugged terrain of the Santa Cruz Mountains, but became serious again when he started to gain weight. "Serious," by the way, means 50-60 miles of 4-miles-an-hour walking for Gracyalny.

So when he joined SafeAmerica last year, he was just in time for the credit union's participation in the American Cancer Society's "Relay for Life" event in late July. He walked a number of laps at the Pleasanton Middle School track "and it was a blast," he said. This year, he was in better shape than ever and broke all records at the event by walking 15 consecutive hours, inspiring co-workers on the company's relay team, including SafeAmerica's president and CEO Richard Jordan, who walked with his IT director for about 14 of Gracyalny's total of 34 miles.

As a result, SafeAmerica's 2009 Relay team raised over $4,800 for cancer research, education, advocacy and service. The "Relay for Life" effort is a signature fund-raising event for the American Cancer Society, and this year's event was the fourth annual Pleasanton Relay for Life with 29 teams participating in the 24-hour walk honoring survivors and remembering those who have lost their battle with the disease.

That also made the Relay important to Gracyalny, whose father died of the disease and whose mother is now a 10-year survivor. CEO Jordan also lost his mother to cancer and recently Gracyalny, himself, has been diagnose with prostate cancer, although at an early enough stage so that there are several options for treatments that have high success rates.

That's why walking with Gracyalny is more than just exercise and good company, it's inspirational to know he often puts his love of walking to good use for causes that help others.

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