In some circles, Gina Mancuso is almost as synonymous with the Art Museum steps as Rocky Balboa.
“The stairs are the heart of CoreFitness,” Gina says with a laugh. And Gina is one of the human hearts of CoreFitness, a local fitness company that has hosted boot camps at the Art Museum steps for the last 15 years.
That’s part of the reason why Gina came up with the crazy idea now known as PHL24.
“My best friend, Carrie, was diagnosed with colon cancer about 10 years ago,” Gina says. “She was told she had 6 months. She had the chance to undergo an experimental surgery, which actually isn’t experimental anymore, and it gave her so many more years.”
Gina frequently made the trip back and forth to Ithaca to be with Carrie and during many of those conversations, Gina wished out loud that there was something she could do. Carrie, with what seemed to be her usual resolve, replied “There is, but you just don’t know it yet.”
Carrie was right. “I think she guided me through the whole thing.”
The first thing Gina could do was join the Legacy of Hope Board. She met founder and CEO Mike Rowe through 11th Hour Racing and classes at CoreFitness.
“Mike was so fiery and passionate about Legacy of Hope,” Gina says. “I knew it was something I had to get involved with.”
The admiration is mutual. “Gina’s enthusiasm for life is contagious. She is a talented leader whose selfless dedication has touched so many lives,” Mike says.
Carrie lost her battle with cancer in October 2017 and Gina was there with her to see her take her last breath. On the trip back to Philly, Gina came up with a crazy idea, which was probably the second step in Carrie’s plan.
That idea was PHL24.
“I called Mike and told him my idea and we went back and forth…I think we both thought we were crazy since the timeline was so tight, but we went with it!” Gina says.
Gina, Mike, and a small pool of volunteers put PHL24 together in just a few months. Through the event, Legacy of Hope raised $30,000 for local families and researchers.
“We had a blast. It was a constant party, even at 3AM,” Gina says with a laugh. “We had three guys come and they were climbing late night and they were just the life of the party.”
What makes the event truly special for Gina is the human connection.
“People show up and they just make friends. As the event goes on, you just see people coming together,” Gina says. “And you see people who can’t climb that just come out to support each other.”
Gina is also inspired by the people who put aside their own struggles to come out and participate in any way they can. “We had a woman come last year in a wheelchair. Someone pushed her to the front of the steps and ended up climbing up on her hands with someone holding her legs up. It puts it all in perspective.”
Gina’s effect on Legacy of Hope is not limited to PHL24.
External Operations Manager Dave Dovell is one of many people who is impressed by Gina’s work with the organization: “You meet Gina and she’s incredibly warm, kind and welcoming...but you have no idea how powerful and driven she is until you see what she can accomplish.”
She also has a reputation with the families that the organization assists.
“I was in the hospital everyday visiting my husband, and this wonderful woman I never met before came and sat with me and brought me coffee,” says Pat Phelan, a longtime friend of Legacy of Hope. “Gina kept calling to support us. She put a smile back on my face and hope in my heart.”
All of Gina’s hard work will once again be front and center this weekend at PHL24 2019. “We have more people and more time. We also have a bigger goal, but the way people come together for it and come out to support everyone is really what keeps me and an organization like Legacy of Hope going. It’s all about the people.”
Join Gina, Mike and the Philadelphia community at PHL24 by signing up to climb. One step or 100 makes a difference.