By Laurie Sterbens
For Hometown News
He was a U.S. Marine Corps veteran with a lifelong love of running, yet four years ago Bill Rotella of New Smyrna Beach found himself in his doctor's office with a diagnosis of Type II diabetes. He'd ballooned to 340 pounds and was smoking heavily.
"You really need to lose weight and get your act together," he recalls his doctor telling him.
Motivated by the health scare, he quit smoking and began eating healthy and exercising. Then Mr. Rotella, who is controller of the City of Daytona Beach Shores, decided to take things a step further.
Years earlier, just before he was deployed to the Gulf War, he ran the Marine Corps Marathon with a group of friends who hoped to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Then 33, he ran the marathon in 3:38, missing his qualifying time for Boston by about 15 minutes.
He decided he'd set a goal of beating his earlier marathon time. Not only that, but he'd run for a cause: the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund.
"So I made a promise that I was going to go ahead and do this for the rest of my life," he said.
Now, at age 56 and down to 197 pounds, he's training for his fifth Marine Corps Marathon, once again to raise funds for a cause he deeply believes in.
"Being a Marine Corps combat veteran, and seeing what's still going on with my fellow brothers and sisters in arms, you cannot help but to want to do something to help these folks," he said. "These folks have made a lifetime commitment. Their disability and their wound is a lifetime thing, so we have to be able to help these folks out," he said.
This year, he has once again set his sights on qualifying for Boston. The qualifying time for his age group this time: 3:38. Determined to beat his first marathon time, he has enlisted the help of a coach and is putting in up to 70 miles a week of training.
"I'm putting all my effort into this marathon, because this is the year that it's all going to happen," he said. If he qualifies for the Boston Marathon, he'll participate in the 2015 race. The bombings at this year's race won't be a deterrent to him or to other racers, Mr. Rotella said.
"I think that you're going to be finding a lot more runners wanting to run Boston or any marathon ... because we're not going to let any terrorists take away our freedoms," he said. "I think it's going to show everyone in the world that nothing's going to stop us."
Mr. Rotella has set a fundraising goal of $2,000 for this year's Marine Corps Marathon to benefit the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, a nonprofit organization established to support injured and critically ill veterans and their families. Since 2004, the Semper Fi Fund has issued grants totaling more than $77 million to more than 10,000 U.S. Armed Forces veterans and their families, according to the organization's website, semperfifund.org.
"The basic ideal that drives our efforts is simple: As much as these American heroes have sacrificed, they deserve the best care and support available in their hour of need," the website states.
"There are many moments when I'm running this marathon that it just brings tears to your eyes," he said. "When you're running along the Potomac and you see photos every 20 feet of veterans who are no longer with us, then you run by 100 people who are holding an American flag, you cannot help but to have a tear in your eye."
Racing alongside veterans who are amputees, who are in wheelchairs, inspires him, Mr. Rotella said. "They can do it. How can I not think about finishing this thing?"
To donate to Mr. Rotella's efforts, visit http://www.active.com/donations/fundraise_public.cfm?force_a2=yes&ckey=semperfifundmcm2013&key=SFFWRotell.