Davidson man will go loopy for a good cause

Ultra marathon runner Jeff McGonnell is set to run around the town green for 24 hours straight next weekend, and he'll even wear a dress in exchange for a donation along the way.

McGonnell calls his effort "24 Hours of Loopy 4 a Cause," and it's anything but loopy.

The 50-year-old business manager at Bank of America hopes to raise awareness of Batten Disease, which causes mental impairment, seizures and eventual loss of sight and motor skills. Children with the disease generally don't live past their teens or early 20s.

McGonnell's son, Ben, 14, is a close friend of Brandon Hawkins, 13, of Concord. Both Brandon and his brother, Jeremy, 9, have the disease.

The McGonnell family lives in Davidson. It also includes Jeff's wife, Jayne, and their daughters, Emily, 21, a rising senior at Appalachian State University, and Selena, 18, who will graduate June 13 from the Northwest School of the Arts.

The family has helped with various fundraisers over the years for the Hawkins brothers and the Batten Disease Support and Research Association, including the annual Our Boys 5K road race at Harris Road Middle School in Concord.

Jeff McGonnell asked himself one day how he could do even more. He thought of how he's run ultra- marathons for 20 years. Why not run continuously for 24 hours around the Davidson town green?

He's run at least 150 ultra-marathons, which are runs longer than a traditional marathon, and for 24 hours straight about a dozen times.

"There's a whole long list of things I can't do," McGonnell told me at Summit Coffee last week. "But I can run for a long time.... Running for 24 hours is easy. Living with this disease day after day like the boys do is hard."

McGonnell got the town's blessing for next weekend's event, which also will include children's games and performances by Billy Jones, the Rusty Knox Trio and other local musicians from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to noon next Sunday.