Heisman Star Brings Inspiration to Young Patients

Feb 24, 2020 | AsthmaFeaturedPatient Stories |

Patients and families at the Child Life Zone at Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital received a special visit on Sunday, December 15, from Joe Burrow, just a day after he was named the 2019 Heisman Trophy winner. The Louisiana State University quarterback hosted a special trivia-themed episode on KidZone TV, answered questions, opened up about his personal life and adversity, and provided inspiration to patients and their families in an appearance made possible through the Companions in Courage Foundation.

Mr. Burrow also signed football keepsakes for the patients, much to the delight of one 13-year-old patient, Ryan Diaz, an aspiring football player himself. Ryan already has helped his Harlem Jets youth football team win two championships—no easy feat for this offensive guard and center who happens to have severe asthma.

“He has had asthma since he was a baby, and he has been in and out of the hospital,” recalled his mother, Christina Ortiz. “He would miss up to 18 days a year of school.” Added Ryan: “It was really hard. I would miss so many things because I couldn’t control my asthma. I struggled so much from something I didn’t cause.”

“We have many, many patients like Ryan with severe asthma,” said Alfin G. Vicencio, MD, Vice Chair for Clinical Affairs and Strategy, and Division Chief for Pediatric Pulmonology at Kravis Children’s Hospital, who started treating Ryan in September 2018. “He has multiple triggers, and it’s hard to isolate one thing, so what is your recourse, stay inside a bubble?”

Dr. Vicencio is primarily treating Ryan with an injection of omalizumab, a monoclonal antibody, every two weeks. “This medication targets very specific molecules that are important in the asthma-inflammation cascade,” said Dr. Vicencio. The treatment acts to decrease the number of sudden episodes of wheezing, shortness of breath, and trouble breathing in individuals whose symptoms are not controlled with inhaled steroids.

“Mount Sinai has a very active program for the diagnosis and treatment of children with severe asthma,” said Dr. Vicencio. “This includes some important research initiatives that are starting to identify new subtypes of asthma, some of which may be driven by unsuspected infections.”

Other components of the research program, he added, are starting to identify new genes in the airway that may contribute to severity. This is part of a collaborative project with Supinda Bunyavanich, MD, MPH, MPhil, Professor of Pediatrics, and Genetics and Genomic Sciences, aimed at finding new therapeutic targets for patients with severe disease.

Following this protocol has allowed Ryan to keep active—except for when he was sidelined for two weeks in February with the flu and pneumonia. He is now able to resume his strenuous four-hour weekend football workouts and continue his participation in a dance and theater program.

Throughout it all, he has excelled in middle school, which has earned him an academic scholarship to Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, New York, a football powerhouse.

“I just love football,” said Ryan, whose father, Juan Diaz, a registrar in Mount Sinai’s Institute for Advanced Medicine, played football for George Washington High School in New York City and has been a coach for the Harlem Jets since 2013. “It is a bond,” said Ryan.

Mr. Burrow is now certainly part of this bond, too. “It was really inspiring to speak with someone of that caliber,” said Ryan. “We talked about football, staying in school, and doing your best. One thing that made me proud—he signed my football jersey, and I gave him a signed Ryan Diaz #74 Harlem Jets hat, which he wore for the entire event.”

As for the football that Mr. Burrow signed, Ryan said he no longer has it. “We decided to give it to Dr. Vicencio because he has done so much for me. He let me lead a normal life. He really likes football, and I felt he really deserved that,” said Ryan. “I felt very, very touched,” said Dr. Vicencio. “I told Ryan that when he is in the National Football League, I will ask for one of these signed by him.”


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Are you Naughty or Nice?

One of the most exciting experiences for many pre-teens during the holidays is the chance to visit Santa Claus at the local shopping mall to find out if they’ve been “Naughty” or “Nice.” The opportunity to meet St. Nick and personally deliver their list of requested toys is always a highly anticipated event.

But for pediatric patients and the families of children confined to hospitals, that is one of the joys of the season that escapes them. That is where the Companions in Courage Foundation comes in. One of the most anticipated events of our year is the Santa Connection.

For 2-3 days in early December, Steve Maykowski of Google hosts Santa Claus at the North Pole located at the YouTube Studios in New York City. A host of Googlers volunteer their time to serve as Santa’s elves as they conduct live Hangouts with almost 100 pediatric patients across North America. Child Life directors and staff create a pipeline to the studio before each patient visit to remind Santa who has been good, for goodness sake!

Santa Claus is a right jolly old elf who “knows” everything about each patient, including siblings and pets! He sings carols with the children and often shares a few surprises that bring squeals of joy. And because Companions in Courage Foundation supports hospitals in Montreal and Ottawa, Pere Noel fills in to share stories in French.

Mark Leff of Cisco Systems, has been in charge of Santa Connection for a decade. He said, “it is an honor to help make these special children feel a little bit brighter during the holidays.” Leff helps raise money throughout the year to ensure that each child receives a gift from Santa. He said, “We know that for many of these children, it’s likely to be the only gift they receive this year.”

Pat LaFontaine spends a large part of the Santa Connection checking in to the personal Hangouts and commenting on social media. He said, “there are many moments when I have to hold back my tears. These children are so courageous and filled with hope. Santa is so patient and filled with love. I have to thank everyone involved for helping all of us get in the holiday spirit as Santa Claus is coming to town!”

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2019 CiC Golf Has Touch of Ireland

HUNTINGTON, NY, October 3, 2019  –  The 17th Annual Companions in Courage Foundation Golf Classic was played in an “Irish Mist.” That inspired Huntington Country Club Pro Jim Smoot to announce, “Gentlemen. People pay a lot of money to go to Scotland to play in weather like this. We’re throwing it in today for free!”

Undaunted, more than 120 golfers teed it up in support of pediatric patients and their families who benefit from the work of the Companions in Courage Foundation. Host Pat LaFontaine was joined by former teammates, Clark Gillies and Bob Nystrom. Hockey’s Eddie Westfall, Benoit Hogue and Pat Jablonski led a host of other celebrities that included the NBA’s Wally Szczerbiak, the NFL’s Marty Lyons, and soccer star Mike Grella.

Michigan artist Paul Madden spent the day completing a commemorative original drawing featuring LaFontaine in front of the U.S. Capital surrounded by youth hockey players. The hockey star was recently elected to the President’s Council on Youth Sports, Fitness and Nutrition.

LaFontaine recognized Westfall – the team’s first captain – for being an underrated contributor to the team’s legacy. He said that Westfall brought the Boston Bruin’s championship culture to Long Island and deserved a lot of credit. Westfall joked that he was Long Island’s first ATM machine. He said, “all these young guys coming to Long Island would run out of money. They’d come to the old man in the room and I’d have to cover them until the end of the month.” The former captain then acknowledged all of the guests in attendance. He told them that they were the most important people in the room – not the former pro athletes – because of their commitment to benefit children in need.

LaFontaine and the foundation’s executive director, Jim Johnson introduced treasurer Carl Lombardi as the 2019 Pioneer Award winner. Lombardi stepped in when former treasurer Roger Simon resigned the position last year. Not only did he maintain the books for the foundation, he also worked to secure the donation of 3-D printers for a pilot program at local hospitals.

Lombardi’s family surprised him at the post-round dinner. He told everyone that , it just feels right,” to be doing this and he’s proud to be associated with LaFontaine and the charity.

LaFontaine sent thanks to all of the sponsors, but particularly to Lombardi and to Mike Heagerty of Edward E. Hall Insurance who both served as FRANCHISE sponsors for the day. Richard Pluta and his family sponsored the cocktail hour and dinner that was enjoyed by all.

The day was filled with poignant moments, including traditional tributes (at Amen Corner) to CiC Foundation supporters who have passed on. The golf course, and later, the dining room was filled with a spirit and enthusiasm that is contagious and inspiring.

Johnson presented a “year in review” that featured images of the 2018 Santa Connection and Heisman Trophy (Kyler Murray) visit to Mount Sinai Children’s Hospital. He also spoke about the foundation’s association with the Cradle of Aviation Museum and live Google Hangouts with Apollo and International Space Station astronauts. In 2018, the foundation did a complete make-over of the Lion’s Den Room in Wolfson Hospital in Jacksonville. The foundation recently expanded their relationship with Google and accepted the donation of 20 Pixel Slates for distribution to children’s hospitals.

The presentation closed with a personal video shot by New Jersey Devils star P.K. Subban that he sent to a patient in a local hospital. The impact of LaFontaine’s work was palpable in the room when the emotional video concluded.

The live auction featured unique golf experiences donated by Nick Patti (Liberty National); Garrett Bodington (Sebonac Golf Club); and Bill Talmage (Friar’s Head Golf Club). Sal Paterno of Milano Fine Men’s Fashion in Huntington Station generously donated a custom suit, and this auction featured one of the most unique items we’ve ever offered. Paul Madden has been collecting the signatures of Hall of Fame hockey players for more than 25 years. His jersey was authenticated and signed by more than 133 Hall of Famers, including Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Mario Lemieux and Guy Lafleur. A spirited auction was held for this one-of-a-kind item and his generosity led to a windfall for the foundation.

Due to the weather conditions, the outing was held as a full team scramble. The foursome of Mike Heagerty, Greg Heinssen, Mike Dischmann and John Catapano took the low team honors. They bested the runner-up teams of Mike Matura, Zoran Grgas, Vinnie, Naletilic and Damir Penava; along with John Kiernan, Tony Trombino, John Shea and Don Krause.

Many golfers took advantage of pre-round massage and stretching offered by Kerri Winans Kaley of StretchLab in Woodbury. Her Woodbury shop on Jericho Turnpike is revolutionizing one-on-one assisted stretching and flexibility training classes. In their innovative group sessions – no matter what your range of motion or fitness level , they can help. Their group stretches are Flexologist-led and will help to increase flexibility and improve range-of-motion.

LaFontaine thanked the Major sponsors that included Rob MacInnis, Striano Electric, Jerry Wood, Delaney Contracting, Patti & Sons, Inc., Croatian-American Foundation, Harbor Irrigation, Cameron Engineering & Associates, Paul Gillin, Siemens, G2D Development, Mercedes Benz of Huntington, Gundermann & Gundermann, Heagerty Family Foundation, IRC Securities and J.C. Steel Corporation.

LaFontaine also thanked the Pluta Family for sponsoring the cocktail party and dinner, Jim Buzzetta of Mercedes Benz of Huntington for sponsoring the Hole-in-One contest; John Cameron of Cameron Engineering for sponsoring the player’s gifts, Sean McAuley and the McAuley Family Foundation for sponsoring the Putting Contest, Jerry Wood for sponsoring the Texas Hold’em Tournament;  Rob MacInnis for sponsoring the Premium Cigars; Andrew Cameron of BNB Bank for sponsoring the Driving Range.

Finally, an event of this magnitude cannot happen without the tremendous efforts of our volunteers: Cheryl Brown, Mia Gillin, Chris Crean, Dan Edwards, Wayne Scarpetta, Joe and Pete Johnson. Their boundless energy and enthusiasm brightened a dreary day and ensured that no child in the fight for life or health should have to go through it alone.


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LaFontaine Named to National Fitness Board

Hockey Hall of Famer will be liaison to President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition

by William Douglas @WDouglasNHL / Staff Writer    September 19th, 2019

WASHINGTON — Pat LaFontaine has been named to the National Fitness Foundation Board of Directors, and the Hockey Hall of Famer will serve as the board’s liaison to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” LaFontaine said Thursday at Washington’s Fort Dupont Ice Arena, where Ivanka Trump helped unveil the White House’s national youth sports strategy. “Sports and hockey have been a stepping stone to what I do today. The character-building you learn from sports, the life skills you learn from sports, is really its greatest value.”

The National Fitness Foundation is the only congressionally chartered nonprofit organization that focuses on health and fitness. It develops corporate partnerships to help expand youth sports participation in the United States and is the official charity of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition.

LaFontaine’s addition to the board and his liaison role will give hockey a presence on bodies that will help draw awareness to the importance of sports to the development and well-being of America’s youth.

“To have a figure like him, especially as a hockey fan and hockey player, is awesome,” said Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson, who attended the Fort Dupont event with teammate Tom Wilson.

LaFontaine, the League’s vice president, hockey development and community affairs, said his work on the NHL’s Declaration of Principles made him a good fit for the National Fitness Foundation’s board.

The declaration, crafted by 17 hockey stakeholders and unveiled in September 2017, advances policies, programs and initiatives to create the best possible experience for the entire hockey community. It states, in part, that all hockey programs should provide a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status.

“All sports, but being in the hockey family, I’m proud to be part of the hockey family for all that it stands for — the finesse of the game, the excitement of the game, the love of the game,” he said, “but more importantly, what the game gives you: the life skills, the character, the development, the values that the sport stands for.”

LaFontaine brings a wealth of knowledge to the foundation as a former player and youth hockey coach. Selected by the New York Islanders in the first round (No. 3) of the 1983 NHL Draft, LaFontaine had 1,013 points (468 goals, 545 assists) in 865 games for the Islanders, Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers from 1983-84 to 1997-98.

Born in St. Louis but raised in Waterford, Michigan, LaFontaine was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame and the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003.

LaFontaine said he’s eager to use his position on the National Fitness Foundation board to try to reverse the decline in youth participation in team sports.

A 2017 study by the Sports & Fitness Association and the Aspen Institute found that the number of children between ages 6 and 12 who participated in team sports dropped from almost 45 percent in 2008 to 37 percent in 2016.

Thirty-two percent of U.S. children are overweight or obese, according to the Fitness Foundation’s website, and $117 billion is spent annually in health care costs associated with physical inactivity.

“I was concerned with some of the stats coming out with all sports where we’re losing 70 percent of all kids in all sports at [age] 13,” he said. “That become concerning to me because values start at home, but school and sports are vehicles to reinforce those values. So to have this position, to be part of the National Fitness Foundation is a tremendous honor — and also a liaison to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition — I’m excited about that role.”


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Heisman Visit at Mount Sinai

On Sunday, December 9th, newly-minted 2018 Heisman Trophy winner, Kyler Murray from Oklahoma University visited patients at Kravis Childrens Hospital at Mount Sinai.

He participated in a hospital-wide broadcast from the Kids Zone, made a couple of bedside visits and then visited the hospital’s Lion’s Den Room. Pediatric patients from other children’s hospitals across the Lion’s Den Network participated in a Google Hangout with the star quarterback. There were many smiles from the patients and Kyler as they asked him about his morning routine, his chances against the University of Alabama in the upcoming college football playoffs, and his favorite candy!

Murray is the second consecutive Oklahoma quarterback (Baker Mayfield in 2017) to visit the hospital on the day following the Heisman announcement. These visits go a long way to buoying the spirits of pediatric patients at both Kravis Children’s and across the Lion’s Den Network. The Heisman Trophy Trust has been partnered with Companions in Courage Foundation for a decade in providing access to college football’s top player for these very meaningful patient visits.

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Santa Delights Across the Continent

On December 4th and 5th, the 2018 version of Santa Connection was conducted in a dozen children’s hospitals throughout North America. More than 100 pediatric patients and their siblings got the chance for a personal visit with Santa Claus (and Pere Noel in Ottawa and Montreal!) via a live Google Hangout.

As always, this event is an emotional roller coaster replete with ample amount of laughter and tears.

The difference made by volunteers from Cisco, Google, St. Dominic High School and YouTube could best be articulated by Alexa at Cohen Children’s Hospital on Long Island, who told Santa that all she wanted for Christmas was to be able to go home with her family… Don’t we all wish that for each of these special children?

We danced with Elijah at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia when “Eesh the Elf” revealed that he was on Santa’s “Nice” list. We celebrated with Abigail at Oishei Children’s in Buffalo when it was revealed that she had her intubation tube removed that morning. We cheered on Kreek at Wolfson Children’s in Jacksonville as he celebrated his discharge day. Three-year-old Chloe at Ste. Justine in Montreal made us laugh when she brushed aside her nasal intubation to mimic Pere Noel’s “Ho! Ho! Ho!” And 11-year-old Leon brought a tear to Santa’s eye when he shared how he had created a Harry Potter Bingo game for his fellow patients at Kravis Children’s at  Mount Sinai in New York so they wouldn’t feel so alone in the hospital.

Far more patients than in any previous year accessed the Santa Connection from isolated rooms, where Child Life staff had to first don masks and gowns before conducting the session via Chromebook. This just amplified the importance of this annual program as we try and reach special children who simply cannot visit Santa in a shopping mall.

Through the generosity of Companions in Courage Foundation donor, every child received a gift card from Santa. These heartwarming visits reminded us all to be “good, for goodness sake!” For all who contributed their talents it helped put perspective on what the holidays are all about.

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Nicole Oliver Records “Personal Best”

By Amy Moritz, Buffalo News | Published November 10, 2018 

The joy was gone.

Nicole Oliver loved running, grew up running and was pretty competitive during her high school days at Williamsville South and in local road races.

But life happens, including being diagnosed with dystonia at age 20. The condition is a movement disorder in which muscles contract involuntarily. As she sought the treatment that worked best for her, running became a challenge both physically and mentally.

Her times got slower and her performance didn’t match what she so desired to do. Oliver lost her motivation. She started telling people she didn’t run anymore.

Finally, her husband, Nate, initiated the difficult conversation to get Nicole running again.

“Nate told me, ‘You can run. You can go out and run 10 miles if you wanted to,’’’ Oliver said. “Still, I was really struggling with enjoying running anymore. It got to be around the time where people were posting about training for the New York City Marathon and I was just really down. And t

hen I started to think Nate was right. I can still run. He told me I was throwing away a gift.”

See, Oliver might not have been up to her speed standards, but she still could go out and whip out a long run of 10 or 12 miles. She might not feel that great after it, but it wouldn’t faze her. She had a talent for running, even if that talent wasn’t about crossing the finish line before everyone else.

So yes, she could still run. She would still run. She decided to train for a marathon and settled on the Niagara Falls International Marathon in late October. But in order to keep her motivation, in order to give her perspective and rekindle the joy, Oliver needed to find a bigger reason to run. She started researching charities and settled on the Companions in Courage Foundation, founded by former Buffalo Sabre Pat LaFontaine. The charity connects hospitalized children with their family, friends and heroes, by building interactive playrooms in hospitals. Kids get to be kids, at least for a little while, during battles with illness and disease.

Oliver created a Facebook Page, Nicole Runs for A Purpose, to share her training while raising money for Companions in Courage and spreading its message. The task not only brought her joy, but helped her reconnect with her own childhood, including asking her mom to dig out the LaFontaine poster that hung in her room when she was in fourth grade.

“I was reliving my childhood and watching some YouTube videos,” Oliver said. “He was such a great hockey player. He came to my elementary school when I was 8 and that’s what really got me turned on to hockey.”

Her whole attitude toward running shifted. She found joy in running for people other than herself. It even helped her when she suffered a groin injury 12 weeks into training. She had to take time off and decided to bump down from the marathon to the half-marathon — a distance she had run many times in training but never raced. She knocked out the half-marathon and claimed her first 13.1-mile distance medal, finishing the race on Oct. 14  in 1:54:42.

“My whole perspective on running has changed,” Oliver said. “There’s this certain joy and happiness you can find from endurance training and racing where it’s not about you and not about your times. Having a goal in mind is great, but when you think about helping people less fortunate than you, it’s just I can’t put it into words. I felt like I had run the best race of my life. It certainly was not the fastest, but I crossed that finish line and felt like this has been the best race so far.

“The day before the race, I was looking at the weather and it was supposed to be cold and rainy, and Jim Johnson, the executive director of Companions in Courage, said it would be an easy day in comparison to what the pediatric patients I’d be helping were going through,” she said. “I thought about that Mile 12 and he was right about that. For every honor or trophy or medal I’ve received in high school or road racing, this was more meaningful.”

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16th Annual CiC Golf Classic is Epic!

HUNTINGTON, NY, September 27, 2018  –  The 16th Annual Companions in Courage Foundation Golf Classic took on epic proportions when Pat LaFontaine decided to recognize all members of the New York Islanders selected last year for Hockey’s 100, along with the members of the team who have had their number retired.

Huntington Country Club on Long Island was buzzing with excitement as Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier and Bill Smith were joined by Bob Nystrom and Clark Gillies. (Earlier in the week, Denis Potvin stopped by to autograph items, since he would be in Florida to broadcast a Panthers’ game on the day of the outing). The legendary group helped raise money and awareness for the organization that now serves almost 60,000 pediatric patients per year in hospitals throughout North America.

A record number of golfers teed it up on a perfect fall day, on a beautiful golf course. Michigan artist Paul Madden spent the day completing a commemorative original drawing of the five Islanders players voted to Hockey’s 100. The piece would be auctioned at a spirited post-event dinner attended by 150.

The Islander legends participated in panel discussion that included remembrances of recently passed G.M. Bill Torrey and hilarious stories of the team’s celebrating with the Stanley Cup. Mike Bossy took particular note of the charitable work conducted on Long Island, especially by his former teammates, Nystrom, Gillies and LaFontaine. Each foursome sponsor received a unique image of the retired Islander banners, personally autographed by each Islanders legend.

LaFontaine introduced 32 unique double magnum bottles of The Pinot Line – a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir – created in order to donate all proceeds to the foundation. Within a matter of minutes, he had raised more than $30,000 for the charity by offering the wine and autographed jerseys from each of the legends in attendance. Harmony Home Concierge Service served as Franchise Sponsor for the day and also contributed 100 gallons of home heating oil, and a 10,000-watt portable gas generator to the raffle. Sal Paterno of Milano Men’s Fashion also generously contributed gift certificates to his Huntington men’s clothing store. Joe McMahon of the McMahon Family  Foundation donated an autographed Matthew Barzal jersey that drew a lot of attention.

The day was filled with poignant moments, including traditional tributes (at Amen Corner) to CiC Foundation supporters who have passed on. The golf course, and later, the dining room was filled with a spirit and enthusiasm that is contagious and inspiring.

Tricia Hiller, Director of Child Life at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at Westchester County Medical Center delivered a stirring keynote presentation on the importance of services like a Lion’s Den Room in patient care.  Her hospital is the site of the first of the 20 Lion’s Den Rooms that have opened across North America. Hiller brought tears to many eyes as she validated the value of the rooms to patients, their families and to healthcare professionals at the hospital.

In addition to the Islanders legends, LaFontaine also welcomed former teammates Ken Morrow, Brian Mullen and Benoit Hogue. The field of celebrities included former NBA star Wally Szczerbiak, his dad Walter Szczerbiak, and hockey’s Pat Jablonski.

CiC Foundation board member Jerry Wood, was the overall champ on the course, shooting a 68. He won a match of cards over another member of his foursome, Clark Gavin . David Lehanski, from the NHL Foundation foursome, won the Long Drive contest with a bomb on Hole # 7, while Chris Thompson (5’2”) won the Closest-to-the-Pin contest on Hole #12. Todd Carroll (in the net!) won the “Nearest-to-the-Net” contest on #18. Alex Kwiatkowski posted the Ladies’ Low Score (87) to capture that trophy. Andi Husted of Phoenix won Ladies’ Closest-to-the-Hole on 12, while Jacque Husted took the Ladies’ Long Drive on #7.

The foursome of Wood, Gavin, Steve Fisher and Paul Mazzola took the low gross team honors with a score of 59. By three strokes, they bested the runner-up teams of Sean McAuley, Chris Thompson, Chris Montanaro and Rob Walter; along with Nick Patti, Jr., Mike Patti, Rob Ronne and Mike Whelan.

Many golfers took advantage of pre-round massage and stretching offered by Steven Login of Golf & Body. His Huntington shop features proactive physical therapy and wellness for men and women looking to remain active.

LaFontaine thanked the Franchise sponsor – Steve Goldman of Harmony Home Concierge service. He also thanked the Major sponsors that included Rob MacInnis, Striano Electric, Lombardi Design, NHL Foundation, Ferreira Construction, Sean McAuley, Jerry Wood, Delaney Contracting, Patti & Sons, Inc., TVR Communications, Unsung Siblings Foundation, Croatian-American Foundation, Discount Tire, Capital One Bank, Botto Mechanical, the Lake Placid Wreckers, Harbor Irrigation, Cameron Engineering & Associates, Paul Gillin, Soldier Design, Polymers-Merona, Valor Hockey and Sun Seven Stars Media.

LaFontaine also thanked Harmony Home for sponsoring the dinner, Jim Botto of Botto Mechanical for sponsoring the Caddies; John Cameron for sponsoring the Halfway House, Jerry Wood for sponsoring the Texas Hold’em Tournament;  Rob MacInnis for sponsoring the Premium Cigars; Andrew Cameron of BNB Bank for sponsoring the Driving Range.

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14th Annual Runner’s Edge Main Street Mile

Back in February of 2005, during an awards luncheon for Long Island Track and Field, Mark Leff, a Senior Manager with Cisco Systems, and Bob Cook, owner of Runner’s Edge in Farmingdale, were talking about the possibility of putting on a race to support Companions in Courage Foundation (CIC), founded by Hockey Hall of Famer and former NY Islander and Ranger Pat LaFontaine. Cook’s thought was to put on a one-mile race. The belief was that it would be unique and would attract participants of all levels of capability.

By June of 2005, North Fork Bank and Dr. Larry Lembo, a Farmingdale Chiropractor, were among the very first sponsors. During Labor Day weekend of 2005, the very first Runner’s Edge Main Street Mile was held. It attracted 180 participants and $3,000 was raised for CIC.

A lot has changed since then. This great event has grown significantly and has become a Labor Day tradition in Farmingdale over the last 14 years and one of CIC’s most anticipated events of the year. It now attracts more than 500 participants each year. And over the last 14 years, the Runner’s Edge Main Street Mile has raised, cumulatively, more than $160,000 to support the great work that CIC does. And most impressively the Runner’s Edge Main Street Mile has been named “one of the top 10 things to do on Long Island for Labor Day weekend.”

A post-race fundraiser was once again held at The Nutty Irishman, which is located right near the finish line. Once again, more than 500 registrants took part and helped to raise a record amount of more than $18,000 to benefit CIC.

Much of the success was also due to the generosity of our sponsors that included Bob Cook, owner of Runner’s Edge and presenting sponsor. Major sponsors once again included title sponsor Cisco Systems. Additional sponsors included Farmingdale Chiropractor Dr. Larry Lembo, who has been a sponsor for all 14 years of the event, the Farmingdale-based law firm of Carman, Callhan and Ingham, the Melville-based law firm of Carter, Deluca, Farrell and Schmidt, Race Awesome who did an incredible job setting up a first-class finish line, The Nutty Irishman (who donated the post-race brunch), Saucony (who donated all race shirts), Stamford, CT-based Horizon Paper and Sunpower Solar Energy Systems. Syosset-based David Lerner and Associates (sponsor of the post-race fundraiser at The Nutty Irishman), Plainview-based B&G Group and 103.1 MAX FM were also major sponsors. The co-race directors were Bob Cook, owner of the Runner’s Edge and Mark Leff of Cisco Systems, along with the race committee of Mindy Davidson of the Greater Long Island Running Club and BOCES, Craig Gluf of Universal Photonics and Jim Johnson, Executive Director of Companions in Courage.

The race finish in front of the Farmingdale Firehouse and Village Hall, with the post-race awards ceremony taking place in back of The Nutty Irishman. There were a record 482 finishers in the race, 85 of them from Farmingdale, 27 from Massapequa and Massapequa Park and many from surrounding local towns such as Bethpage, Seaford, Wantagh and as far away as Waltham, MA, and Santa Monica, CA.

The event had strong local representation with other sponsors that included The Posillico Foundation, who sponsored 24 members of the Farmingdale Girls Volleyball Team; The Library Café of Farmingdale; Dr. Jospeh Ciaccio, DDS of Hewlett, NY; Babylon Bike Shop, Bill Romas, LMT; The Greater Long Island Running Club; Polar USA (who very generously donated heart rate monitors to the raffle); Arizona Iced Tea (who donated all the water at the finish line); Anton Media Group of Mineola; Mario’s Pizzeria in Massapequa; Stew Leonard’s and Stew Leonard’s Wine Shop in Farmingdale; Uncle Giuseppe’s in Massapequa; The Good Life in Massapequa Park; and

Palmers American Grill. There was also a kid’s fun run where the younger participants ran a quarter-mile up and down Main Street and received medals and free ice cream from McDonalds’s on Route 109 in Farmingdale. This year’s official race photographers were Island Photography of Port Washington and Joel Harris Photography of Mineola.

Pat LaFontaine, one of Hockey’s Top-100 all-time players and the founder of Companions in Courage Foundation said, “Over the last 14 years, we have watched this event emerge to become part of the fabric of Farmingdale’s Labor Day weekend. Our record number of participants, sponsors and funds raised this year to benefit local pediatric patients is a reflection on the village’s emergence as one of the great downtown’s on Long Island. I cannot thank the race committee, sponsors and of course, Bob Cook at Runner’s Edge enough for their vision and support.”

Dignitaries in attendance included Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino, Greg Carman from sponsor Carman, Callahan and Ingham, who is also the Deputy Town Supervisor, and Brian Harty, the Farmingdale Village Administrator.

Doing the race announcing was “the Voice of Long Island Racing” Terry Bisogno. Race timing was provided by PRTiming of New Paltz, NY. The finish line and much of the race logistics were provided by Corey Roberts of Race Awesome of Seaford.

Jim Johnson, executive director of Companions in Courage Foundation said, “It is so inspiring to see athletes of every level competing in this family-friendly event that benefits families in need. Our stellar race committee has assembled a group of very special sponsors and partners. Race Awesome makes sure that the finishers of our one-mile event cross the Finish Line under an arch that is worthy of an Ironman Triathlon. It’s just one more way to let everyone know just how special this event really is.”

The race was followed by the special fundraising event at The Nutty Irishman, who generously donated their space with a buffet for all the participants. The festivities also included a performance from the SPITunes, a band lead by Companions in Courage Executive Director Jim Johnson, and where Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joe Saladino played drums for one number. There was also the biggest raffle the event has ever held with numerous prizes that included a Schwinn Cruiser Bike donated by Babylon Bike, a Sony Playstation 4, a Race Awesome VIP pass for all 2019 races, and many other numerous prizes and gift certificates that also included autographed memorabilia from Pat LaFontaine. The MC for the event was The Wiseman of 103.1 MAX FM Radio who wore his infamous beanie. He brought so much energy to the event. He even played some hockey trivia games with some of the participants. The Main Street Mile once again produced great performances for both the men and women.

The men’s open division (under 40 years of age) was won by Joseph Grieco of Massapequa at 4:17, followed by Jonathan Afanador of Patchogue and Yean Jimienez of Union City, NJ.

In the men’s master’s division, Boyd Carrington of West Islip won with a time of 4:24, followed by Early Penney of Glen Head and David Lopez-Merols of East Northport.

In the women’s open division, Jen Dagan won with a time of 4:52. She was followed by Michelle Walker and Katie McGrath.

In the women’s masters division, Vivien Lim of Great Neck won with a time of 5:31. She was followed by Una Broderick and Heather Riddiough.

The wheelchair division was once again won by Peter Hawkins of Malverne with a time of 3:27.

The race’s oldest finisher once again was 90-year-old Bert Jablon of Syosset. In honor of Bill Benson, a well-known and loved member of the running community who was beloved at past Main Street Mile events and who passed away in 2016 at the age of 97, the “Bill Benson Memorial Award” award awarded to Bert Jablon as the race’s oldest finisher for the third straight year. Also a notable performance came from Virginia Guichard of Melville who finished with a time of 23:51 in the 80-84 year old division.

There were 83 Farmingdale residents who participated and fared well in the race. Top finishers included Noelle Cutter for the women and Patrick Smyth for the men. Other participants included Anthony Diaz, Franklin Diaz, Connor Fawcett, Steve Waters, Ronnie Vichman, Trevor Gayron, John Russo, Gavin Roger Rogers, William Hammond, Leann Nicholas, Joseph Picini, Stephen Kessler, Joseph Kessler, Eamonn McLoughlin, Briana Bellando, Christine Gayron, Christine Gilleran, Kelly Bergersen, Jack Brosnan, Matthew Oppedisano, Savanna Spakalik, Hannah Wenzel, Bill Coleman, Chris Unger, Misel Diaz, Elizabeth Kaufman, Michael Beriloff, Bill Pawlowski, Christopher Hunt, Dylan Coleman, Kelsey Gallagher, Kyra Akley, Toniann Penna, Madison Burke, Emily Hunt, Michael Oppedisano, Caleb Carle, Hailee Comple, Adam Bruzzese, Kimberly Fields, Julianne McNally, Aidan Hamilton, Charlotte Luquer, Meghan Kane, George Graf, Cuinn Sunde, Julian Farrell, Jessica Beriloff, Teigan Sunde, Joseph Beriloff, Alyssa Fields, Kelly Palandro, Walter Buser, Erin Smyth, Victoria Pizzarelli, Kimberly Warshauer, Tara Syrett, Alexa Pereira, Kyle Gayron, Meredith Beringer, Dana Oppedisano, Jennifer Labas, Natalyia Hammond, David Ladd, Patricia Fawcett, Tiffany Blatz, Helen Kappel,, Elizabeth Russo, Samantha Stanton, Isha Hamilton, Tara Coleman, Janet Dawson, Robert Ryan, Joslyn Larocio, Jessica Deluercio, Tiffany Ladd, Shawn Rogers, Vanessa Damo, Christine Hopper, Suhany Longarello, Joe Sokol and Frederick Benlein.

Massapequa and Massapequa Park residents were represented by 33 participants thatincluded Joe Grieco, Michele Walker, John McKeon, Thomas Augeri, Thomas Erdmann, James Porr, Erin Byrnes, Steven Simmons, Christopher Leon, Vincent Corrado, Alyse Batt, Kristina Leon, Patricia Hedderson, Christine Poplawski, Glenn Morse, Thomas Tuffy, Jonathan Fields, Lois Bentivegna, Judy Digiovanni, Norman Hershkowitz, Thomas Hilbert, Heather Riddiough, Jack Rhein, Frank Vereline, Liz Henry, John Nora, Tom Verlene, Michael Cors, Thomas Coll, Taylor Jonak, Kathy Rose, Seamus Vereline and Eileen Creaven.

There were also 60 participants from the RunStart program, which is sponsored by the Greater Long Island Running Club and Runner’s Edge to help introduce new runners how to train, with the Runner’s Edge Main Street Mile being one of the races the members of this program train to take part in. Debbie Blair and Bob Cook are to be thanked for their efforts with this group.

Proceeds from the race go toward CIC. As seen at, CIC raises funds to build interactive playrooms in children’s hospitals throughout North America. Through innovative communications tools, these playrooms are meant to replace the isolation of a hospital with a connection to family, friends and celebrities during their hospital stay. This effort paves the way for their motto, “No child in the fight for life or health should ever have to go it alone.”

The rooms, dubbed “the Lion’s Den,” have state-of-the-art technology from Cisco Systems, Microsoft and Google. Patients receive a “smart” card when they check into the hospital, identifying them as members of a special community with unique privileges. The key is an ID device that allows each child to personalize their experience within the Lion’s Den room with activities such as web surfing, video game playing and video-conferencing. Lion’s Den playrooms in the NY area include one at Huntington Hospital, Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital at Columbia Presbyterian in NYC, Maria Fareri Chidren’s Hospital in Valhalla, NY, Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC, and the most recent one being at Cohen’s Children’s Hospital in New Hyde Park.

The proceeds from this event will go a long way toward helping children and their families in their time of need given the great work done by CIC. This is inclusive of a CIC initiative known as “Santa Connection.” a way to bring live and personal Santa visits to children in numerous hospitals around the U.S. and Canada this coming December using video conference capabilities from Google. This event will once again will be hosted at Google’s YouTube Studios in NYC in December. There are also plans to once again have the Heisman Trophy winner do children’s hospital visits via a Google video conference, known as a “hangout” this December as well. Past Heisman Trophy winner visits have included Robert Griffin III, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Derrick Henry, Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield.

“I think about how far this event has come over the last 14 years,” said co-race director Mark Leff of Cisco Systems and lead for the CIC Technology Advisory Board. “I think about how today, prominent leaders and business people in the Farmingdale community have come together to make this event special and first-class in every respect. We can’t thank Joe Fortuna enough for making The Nutty Irishman available and for his great hospitality. But most importantly, we need to thank the Farmingdale Village Administration as well as the Nassau County Police and Auxiliary Police for their great support. Brian Harty and his entire team were phenomenal as they are every year. I also think its important to give special thanks to the MTA Police for their support. This event means so much to the community as well as to the children and all the participants who helped support children’s hospitals all over the U.S. and Canada. What a great example of bringing the community together for a great cause. And how about that finish line setup by Corey Roberts and Race Awesome? They deserve a huge thanks. Finally, I can’t thank our sponsors enough for their generosity and support. This event keeps getting better every year. It’s a great team effort; this is not possible without an incredible race committee, volunteers and sponsors.”

For more information on Companions in Courage, visit

For more information on the Main Street Mile, visit View photos from the race and the post-race fundraiser, and highlights from Facebook Live.

–Submitted by Mark Leff

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LaFontaine presents at Jefferson Awards

Pat LaFontaine served as a presenter at the 2018 Jefferson Awards New York National Ceremony on March 123th in Manhattan. The Jefferson Awards are generally considered the “Nobel Prize for Public Service.” LaFontaine had been a recipient of a national award in 2012.

The member of Hockey’s Top-100 recognized a young girl who had grown very special to him. LaFontaine said that Emma Stumpf was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 7, and had survived 20 surgeries and 70 weeks of chemotherapy treatment. As part of her recovery, Emma turned to artwork and thought that the same things that made her happy, might benefit other pediatric patients. She started collecting supplies and delivering Emma’s Art Carts to kids in need.

Inspired by Emma’s project, The Charter School of Wilmington (DE) collected more than 10,000 art kits this year and delivered them to pediatric patients throughout Delaware. For their effort, the Jefferson Awards had LaFontaine present them with their LEAD360 Award for 2018.

NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal was also recognized for his extensive philanthropy. He told a story of how his mom, Lucille, asked him to support a local school where none of the children would receive a Christmas present. Shaq said, “I asked her how many kids she was talking about – hoping she’d say a couple of hundred. But it was more like a couple of thousand.” Within 48 hours “Shaq-A-Claus” was born. The NBA star rented a few U-Haul trucks, “bought out” a Toys-R-Us store, and everyone had a gift. That was 15 years ago.

Among other recipients of Jefferson Awards was Alexis Jones, a former contestant on the reality show, “Survivor,” and an advocate for women’s rights. She is an internationally recognized author, activist, speaker and media personality. She recently founded ProtectHer, a locker room program educating male athletes on the importance of respecting women.

Miss New York State, Gabrielle Walter introduced sisters, Reagan and Payton Garnsey of Delaware, who were awarded a LEAD360 Recognition by the Jefferson Awards for their project, “Buckets of Love.” Buckets of Love is focused on collecting recycled icing buckets from Sam’s Club in Dover and filling them with goodies to distribute to children in local hospitals aged 2-12.

“I help shop for things and I help stuff the buckets,” Payton said. “We put in coloring books, crayons, markers, stuffed animals, games and crafts.”

Since starting in June 2017 the sisters have raised $3,000 to support the effort and have distributed 101 buckets. When asked why, Reagan said she wants to cheer up kids who might be sad or scared while the await or receive medical treatment.

“I’ve never had to stay in the hospital overnight, but I’ve been in hospitals before,” Reagan said. “In there, despite all the bright paintings on the wall, it can be a sad place sometimes. We just wanted to bring some happiness to the kids in the hospital.”

The Jefferson Awards Foundation was created in 1972. The Awards are given at both national and local levels. Local winners are ordinary people who do extraordinary things without expectation of recognition. The Foundation is led by its Executive Director, Hillary Schafer, its President, Sam Beard, and its Chairman, Joseph N. Sanberg, in conjunction with the Foundation’s Board of Governors.

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