The Rocky Balboa of Bayville

Kevin Bartolotto lives in Bayville, New York, with his wife and two kids. When he’s not fixing cars at his family’s business, Nick’s Auto Repair; putting out fires as a volunteer firefighter; or spending time with his boys, the 40-year-old runs with Fred’s Team, the official running program of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK).

Since joining Fred’s Team in 2016, Kevin has completed 13 marathons and raised over $73,000 for cancer research at MSK. Rain or shine, he can be seen treading the sidewalks, trails, and back roads of his hometown, with “Eye of the Tiger” blaring in his headphones. Long Island locals know him as the mechanic who will go the distance to fight cancer.

“I’m like the Rocky Balboa of Bayville,” he says.

Not Your Average Runner

Nearly 5 feet 7 inches and 175 pounds, Kevin says he doesn’t look like a typical long-distance runner. Eight years ago, the farthest he had ever run was 1.5 miles. He was the kid who wrestled and played football — he never dreamed he’d take up a noncontact sport like running.

Then one day in 2016, Kevin came across a friend’s Facebook post sharing pictures from a half-marathon. “I could do that too,” he thought. Keen for a new challenge, he began researching races and discovered that he could get a guaranteed entry for the TCS New York City Marathon by running with Fred’s Team.

Kevin’s grandmother was treated for lymphoma at MSK in 2004. After four years in remission, the cancer returned and swiftly spread through her lymph system, and she died two weeks later. Kevin had wanted to do something to honor her life ever since, and running felt like his chance. So, he called Fred’s Team and landed a spot on the TCS New York City Marathon roster.

After committing to raise $3,500 for cancer research at MSK, Kevin realized that he had to start training. The next day, he jogged 7 miles — the most he’d ever run in his life. A few days later, he wanted to test himself again, so he ran 14 miles. It was easier than he expected, he recalls.

With guidance from the Fred’s Team training program, he developed a running routine and didn’t look back until crossing the finish line in Central Park that November. His plan was to be what runners call a one-and-done. He’d conquer a marathon for his grandmother and that’d be that. But after experiencing 26.2 miles through the five boroughs of New York City, he decided to run it again in 2017.

An Unexpected Diagnosis

In early 2018, Kevin’s dad, Nick, was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer, and life for the Bartolotto family suddenly turned upside down.

With his dad in treatment, Kevin was left to manage Nick’s Auto Repair on his own. He had hoped to run the marathon again that November, but he didn’t know how he was going to have the time or energy to train for another race. He thought about calling it off. His family and customers, however, wouldn’t let him hang up his sneakers. They told him he had to keep going for his dad, so that’s what he did.

As Kevin trained for his third marathon, Nick persevered through a chemotherapy regimen called FOLFOX. Developed in the 1990s, FOLFOX is a combination of the drugs fluorouracil, oxaliplatin, and leucovorin, and it remains a key part of treatment plans for many types of cancer today. Over the years, researchers in the MSK Colorectal Service have played an important part in improving FOLFOX and discovering alternative treatment approaches for people with advanced colon cancer like Nick.

After undergoing surgery and several months of chemotherapy, Nick went into remission. The news came just before race day, and Kevin was able to see his dad at Mile 23, which remains one of his all-time favorite running memories.

“We hugged and he said, ‘Good job,’ ” Kevin recalls. “I looked at him with tears in my eyes and said, ‘No, it’s you who deserves the good job, Dad.’ ”

A World Marathon Major Champion

Upon finishing his third marathon with Fred’s Team, Kevin decided that running was his sport after all. Now that he knew a thing or two about crossing finish lines, he set a few goals for himself. He was going to complete the six World Marathon Majors, which include the BMW Berlin Marathon, Boston Marathon, Bank of America Chicago Marathon, TCS London Marathon, TCS New York City Marathon, and Tokyo Marathon. He was also going to run a marathon in under three hours — while wearing Fred’s Team orange, of course.

In 2023, Kevin checked Tokyo and Berlin off his marathon list, finally securing a World Marathon Major Six Star Medal. What is more, he reached the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin with an incredible time of 2:59:08.

“Fred’s Team has taken me to places I never would have dreamed of,” he says.

New Year, New Goals

Today, Kevin has his sights set on a new PR and a new fundraising mission. As part of Fred’s Team, he had always funded advances in pediatric cancer, because the thought of a young person having to go through what his dad went through is just horrible, he says. This year, however, he is raising money for colon cancer research to honor his friend who is currently undergoing treatment for colon cancer at MSK.

On April 15, Kevin will be running the 2024 Boston Marathon for his friend, his dad, and families everywhere facing cancer. By sharing his story, he hopes to inspire others to run with Fred’s Team and join him in imagining a world without cancer.

“This is my cause, and I plan on running with Fred’s Team until my joints turn to powder.”

Like Kevin, you can take on any race with Fred’s Team, whether it’s an official Fred’s Team event, the Boston Marathon, or a local 5K. 100% of every dollar raised by our runners goes directly to cancer research at MSK. Learn more.