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Mikey Brannigan proudly displays the United States Flag as he races down the London track during the 2017 World Para Athletes Championships. File photo

By Desirée Keegan

Mikey Brannigan didn’t roam the halls of Northport High School, he ran down them. He’d dash through the doors as others raced behind him, saying “catch me if you can.”

“Stop that kid,” Brannigan said they would shout, laughing.

Mikey Brannigan received a proclamation from New York State Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci. Photo from Assemblyman Lupinacci’s office

Brannigan battled his way to a successful high school career, and beyond after graduating in 2015. The runner is continuing to exceed expectations — being the only Paralympic athlete in history to hold simultaneous records in the 1,500-, one-mile, 3,000- and 5,000-meter events. He brought home two gold medals — in the 1,500 and 800 — and silver in the 5,000 at the London 2017 World Para Athletics Championships at the end of last month.

“Make no mistake about it Mikey wants to be the best,” his New York Athletic Club coach of two years, Sonja Robinson said. “His drive — it shines out. You see it. He loves running.”

Brannigan was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old, and began running at 8. Fast-forward 11 years, when as a 19-year-old he became the first individual with autism to win a gold medal in the 1,500. He also became the first athlete with a T-20 Paralympic classification to shatter the 4-minute mile threshold in August 2016 with a 3 minute, 57 second finish at the Sir Walter Miler meet in Raleigh, North Carolina. A month later, he competed in the Special Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he took home the gold after a dominating 3:51 in the 1,5000.

Mikey Brannigan, at center, is surrounded by politicians and coaches as he shows off his new proclamations and gold and silver medals. Photo from Assemblyman Lupinacci’s office

Now at 20, he’s training to compete in the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.

“I’m taking it little by little and want to show everyone that if you take even little steps you can achieve your dreams,” Brannigan said. “Look at all you can achieve. Work hard and you can achieve your dreams. You can achieve anything.”

Brannigan was honored by local government officials at Northport High School Aug. 9, receiving accolades for his accomplishments, while the members also dubbed Aug. 9 Mikey Brannigan Day in New York.

“He’s truly our hometown hero,” state assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station) said. “Mikey’s story is nothing short of amazing. What he has accomplished at his age is unheard of. His achievements are a true testament of his hard work, dedication, perseverance, sweat and tears.”

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), whose kids graduated from and played sports in Northport, said he was in awe, and pointed to the back of the room — the local kids that were in attendance at the press conference — as the “cool” part of the event.

“He’s truly our hometown hero. Mikey’s story is nothing short of amazing. What he has accomplished at his age is unheard of.”

—Chad Lupinacci

“What we do when we go to Albany is we brag,” he said, putting his hands on Brannigan’s shoulders. “We tell everyone how cool our districts are, we tell everyone about the Northport school district, and we’re very proud of where we live and where we represent. There’s nothing, in my opinion, nothing better than dealing with young adults, no matter what they may be doing, because they’re the future.”

Brannigan grinned as he was invited to Albany in January to be recognized by the entire state legislature. State Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) also presented him with a proclamation.

“We’re going to bring you up to Albany, but the bad news is, you have to run there and it’s 200 miles,” Flanagan joked.

“That’s a long, cold trip,” Brannigan responded, waiving his arms no.

Flanagan said he was humbled and proud to be in Brannigan’s presence.

“These are the stories people should know about and want to hear about,” he said. “I went from a stage where I used to run, then I jogged and now I walk. On my best day, I couldn’t even come close to the accomplishments of this young man, who really is a role model.”

State Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) agreed the barriers Brannigan has broken are unbelievable feats.

Mikey Brannigan smiles as he shakes New York State Assemblyman Andrew Raia’s hand during a press conference at Northport High School. Photo from Facebook

“Every day you turn on the television and something bad is happening,” he said. “I want to turn on the television to see this young man. It’s a big responsibility to carry, but in just the few moments I’ve had to talk with him, I know he’s up to the challenge.”

Raia proceeded to tell Brannigan he was going to embarrass him, to which he responded: “Do it.”

The assemblyman pointed out the runner’s red, white and blue Sperry top-siders, and said he needed to find out where he got them.

“He’s such a proud American,” Raia said, to which Brannigan smiled and shook his hand. “We wish nothing but the best. Keep running, my friend.”

Lupinacci shared a similar sentiment during the conference that was broadcasted on Facebook live and viewed by nearly 3,000 people.

“Your family and friends and all of us here today are proud of you,” he said as he gave Brannigan a hug. “Younger generations will follow in your footsteps. You’re not only our hometown hero, you’re an inspiration to all New Yorkers and all Americans. You’re an inspiration to people around the world.”

Ricardo and Eva Estevez with their children, Amelia Estevez Creedon and Ricardo Estevez Jr. Photo from Amelia Estevez Creedon

By Amelia Estevez Creedon

I am a Cuban-American woman born and raised in New York City. My parents have instilled in us a love for the United States and patriotic passion. We are also proud of our Cuban heritage and are affected by situations that arise in my parent’s native home.

My father came to the United States in 1960 after fleeing the Communist regime. My mother came to the United States in 1961. They met in the United States and married in 1971.

My father lived a prosperous life in Cuba.

He was a farmland owner and a veteran of the Cuban military. He also did many side jobs. One of his side jobs under the Batista government was to drive dignitaries to their desired destinations. My father loved Cuba. He loved the nightlife and  time with friends and family and was very proud to be Cuban.

My father was imprisoned. He remembers hearing men cry before they died in front of the firing squad. He was beaten, starved and tortured.

But when Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, everything changed. My father was imprisoned. He remembers hearing men cry before they died in front of the firing squad. He was beaten, starved and tortured. The soldiers would insult, humiliate and mutilate the prisoners. The men in the prison were not criminals, but people that were incarcerated for voicing their opinion, going to church, refusing to join government-run organizations and more. My father was able to escape from prison and Cuba and help other families come to the United States.

My mother lived with her parents and two sisters. They were poor and worked hard to make a living. My grandfather was a mailman. My grandmother washed clothes for neighborhood families. Despite their poverty, my mother has precious memories of her country. She remembers school being a place of great learning. She recalls the love that existed between neighbors. She remembers a childhood filled with dreams, play and joy. All that changed after Fidel Castro took power.

Castro established watch groups within communities to make sure that civilians were obeying the rules he had in place. Neighbors began turning in neighbors for playing television programs that were considered anti-revolutionary, or eating food that was meant for the soldiers, or for gathering for prayer, or expressing views that were different from that of the government.

My mother remembers the frequent assaults on her house. Soldiers would enter by force in the middle of the night. The rationale for this entry might have been that a neighbor had heard them speaking ill of the government, or that they had some item that was considered counterrevolutionary. One night, my mother’s family was told to remove their crucifix from the house and replace it with Fidel Castro’s picture. My grandfather refused and was taken prisoner. He was incarcerated in a dark enclosed space, alone, starved, beaten and humiliated.

My grandparents knew they had to leave the country.

My mother remembers the frequent assaults on her house. Soldiers would enter by force in the middle of the night.

They applied for a program through which they might gain permission to leave. This program consisted of the family working in an agricultural camp for two years. This did not ensure exit from the country but placed their name in a lottery. The family was separated within the camp and lived in barracks. Life in the camp consisted of working from dawn until dusk cutting sugar cane. The work was brutal. The workers were given raw horse meat to eat, had no work breaks and limited water. My mother remembers being taunted by the soldiers. They would spit at her, call her “gusano,” which means worm, and was a popular derogatory term used to describe anti-Communists. The barracks had bunk beds with no mattresses or pillows. The workers were housed in these cramped quarters and the outhouses were filthy and unkempt.

My dad passed away this past March. My grandparents died two years ago. They knew that the government was still oppressing many, as well as incarcerating political prisoners and dissidents on the island.

This type of oppression continues today. The inhumane treatment of many Cuban citizens is still occurring. My parents, as well as grandparents, became United States citizens shortly after arriving. When they first arrived they worked long hours cleaning floors, waiting on tables, basically doing whatever work was available. My father was able to learn different trades as time passed so that he could better provide for our needs. Neither of them was a stranger to hard work and they taught my brother and me to value it as well.

They came to love the United States as their home. They were, and my mother still is, fiercely proud to be United States citizens. They taught us to love our country but to always have hope that Cubans in Cuba might also one day be free. They always reminded us that anyone could be successful if they worked hard in the United States and that freedom was not free. Every year our family prayed that Cuba would be liberated from this dictatorship. For my father and grandparents, Castro’s death would have restored a glimmer of hope that despite the years of tyranny, things could change.

Unfortunately, my grandparents and father never saw this day. Fidel Castro’s death does not mean that communism is over or that the brutalities will cease. His brother, Raul rules similarly. Yet, Castro’s death gives many Cubans a hope for the future, a hope that one day democracy and freedom might come to Cuba.

Amelia Estevez Creedon lives in Sound Beach. She is an elementary school teacher at Riley Avenue Elementary School and a school librarian, the leader for a Webelos and Bear den for Cub Scout Pack 204 in Miller Place and a member of the Sound Beach Civic Association.

Congressman Steve Israel speaks on the dangers of hoverboards at the Commack Fire Department on Dec. 15. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

One of this year’s hot holiday items might be a little too hot.

Hoverboards have been flying off the shelves this holiday season, but recent safety issues, including multiple cases of boards catching fire or exploding, have given some shoppers pause. That’s why U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D) gathered with members of the Commack Fire Department Tuesday and urged consumers against buying hoverboards specifically made in China, because he said the type of batteries used in them may ignite.

“Hoverboards may be the hot holiday gift, but they are literally catching on fire and igniting questions about their safety and the safety of lithium-ion batteries,” Israel said. “New Yorkers should remain hesitant before purchasing these hoverboards and stay vigilant while using and charging them.”

Hoverboards are self-balancing and electronic two-wheeled devices on which people can travel from place to place. When riding one, a person may appear to be levitating, or hovering, similarly to those on the hoverboards featured in the film “Back to the Future II.”

Israel stood beside a photo display of several fires that the Commack department had already responded to where hoverboards caused combustion inside someone’s home, destroying property and, sometimes, entire rooms.

Hoverboards shipped from overseas use lithium ion batteries, which can combust if heated or overcharged due to their limited voltage range. Israel called for more research from the U.S. Department of Energy on the safety of using lithium ion batteries in hoverboards.

The congressman also noted that airports already task their security personnel to remove all lithium ion batteries from checked bags for the same reason.

“Well if we know that those lithium ion batteries could be a hazard to the plane, and we know a hover board with a lithium ion battery could be hazardous to our homes, that says we need to do a little bit more research,” Israel said.

Commack Fire Marshal Joe Digiose flanked the congressman on Tuesday and said he urged residents to be careful when buying hoverboards until more research is completed. He said there is no research that shows the American-made products are not working well, but the ones from overseas pose more of a danger and are being shipped at a very high rate to the United States.

“We recommend you don’t buy them but if you do, buy an American-made one,” he said.

Don Talka speaks on research of lithium ion batteries at the Commack Fire Department on Dec. 15. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Don Talka speaks on research of lithium ion batteries at the Commack Fire Department on Dec. 15. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Don Talka, senior vice president and chief engineer at Underwriters Laboratories has been involved in research on lithium ion batteries for years, starting back when they were involved with similar issues in laptops. He said the major problem is the mating of the battery with the rest of the electronics used in the hoverboards.

“What we’ve learned through our research … is that the combination and how these pieces interact causes the issues,” Talka said. “And how the batteries are charged and discharged are all items which need further investigation.”

At the press conference, Israel inspected the box that a hoverboard came in, and said that despite all the instructions and caution labels about the product, there is nothing to be said about the battery.

“That has been established as one of the single greatest threats to property and potentially lives when they’re coming from China,” Israel said. “That’s why we want to comply with the energy chair to fully research this and make sure that people aren’t being exposed to greater risk and threat by lithium ion batteries.”

Stony Brook University international students at a potluck supper hosted by the Colatosti family of Setauket. Photo from Susan Colatosti

Soon, hundreds of international students will be arriving at Stony Brook University to begin their academic careers in search of advanced degrees. For most, it will be their first time in the United States. They have no family or friends here, and are in a completely foreign and unfamiliar environment.

The Host Family Program, a community-based organization now in its fourth decade, provides a newly arrived international student with the friendship of a local American family.

It is run by volunteers, with the cooperation of the university, and has been directed by Rhona Goldman since 1974. It is not a home-stay program; students live on or near campus. Host families invite students to share a meal, some sightseeing, or a favorite activity.

Both students and host families can have the enriching experience of a cultural exchange and gain perspective about the world. A host family may be a retired couple, a family group, or a single individual. The only prerequisite is the desire to make an international student feel comfortable in a new setting.

Students are arriving on campus in late August for the start of the fall semester and are looking forward to meeting an American family. The university will host a reception for the students and the host families to meet each other before the semester begins.

There is always a shortage of local volunteers to host all the students who sign up for the program.
If you would like to find out more about the program, email Rhona Goldman at: sbuhostfamilies@gmail.com.

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