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Athlete

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.”

Accident leads to two fundraising efforts, 25A study

Nico Signore with his mother Kim. Photo from Facebook

Just days after Miller Place teen and lacrosse superstar Nicolo Signore died riding his bike on Route 25A, friends, relatives and community members are doing all they can to help his grieving family.

A little after 5 p.m. on Feb. 23, Signore, 14, described as “a happy kid with a big heart” by those closest to him, was out doing what he loved to do — riding his bike with his friends — when he tried crossing northbound Miller Place Road at Route 25A. The last of his group of four friends to cross the street, Signore was struck by an SUV after the light turned green, suffering significant head trauma.

Nico Signore wore No. 20 as a goalkeeper for Miller Place’s lacrosse team. Photo from Pam Santo Speedling

He was immediately rushed to Stony Brook University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, sending a shock wave through not only his family and friends but the entire community.

“I have no words to offer that could ever make this time easier; my thoughts are with you.”

“We are absolutely heartbroken with the loss of Nico. We will never forget him and will pray for peace for his loving family. We love you.”

“Although we do not know your family, we are part of the Miller Place community family. We are so very sorry for your loss. Our prayers are with you all.”

These messages, accompanied by donations of $100, are just a small portion of the love and support seen on the GoFundMe page “Please support Nico Signore,” one of two fundraising campaigns set up in the aftermath of Signore’s death. The page was created by family friend Pam Santo Speedling Feb. 25, just one day after the accident, with the intention of helping the Signore family pay for funeral costs and ease the burden of Kim Signore, Nico’s mother, who will now be able to stay home from work and grieve without worrying about income.

Nico Signore with his brother Vincent Jr., father Vincent, mother Kim and sister Sophia. Photo from Pam Santo Speedling

Speedling, who has been best friends with Kim for more than 20 years since graduating nursing school together, said she’s long considered all three Signore children her own, and sprang into action, unbeknownst to Kim.

“I just felt completely helpless because Kim was so distraught she couldn’t even speak, and so I knew I had to do something that would help her,” Speedling said. “The last thing you want to worry about after burying your child is worrying about how you’re going to pay the bills. At this point in [Kim’s] life, she doted on Nico and everything she did revolved around him. This accident just took her life away, it’s devastating.”

When she presented the idea to family friend Denise Cagno, Cagno told her it was a great idea.

“It’s just amazing how many people are being so generous and supportive of this thing for the family at this time,” Cagno said. “It’s a great way to help a family in need, and it’s a big load off them.”

“My little brother was the most perfect, pure person I’ve ever come in contact with. He could walk into a room full of sadness and light it up like a Christmas tree.”

— Vincent Signore Jr.

The fundraiser hit its goal of $5,000 after just about a day, and within three days, the funds exceeded $27,076. So far, 370 people have donated, with individual contributions ranging from $15 to $300. The family has considered putting Signore in a burial vault, as they did with his grandparents, which costs $10,000.

Charles Butruch, Nico’s uncle, created another GoFundMe page, “The Nico Signore Scholarship Fund,” Feb. 27, on behalf of the Miller Place teen’s parents, who wish to preserve their son’s legacy through a scholarship fund that will recognize Miller Place seniors “who embody the same exemplary spirit, courage, determination, love of community and passion for living that Nico exhibited so naturally.” After just one day, the page has raised $3,200 of its $25,000 goal.

Kim Signore is also interested in having a bike path named in memory of Nico in recognition of one of his greatest passions. Coincidentally, Suffolk County is in the process of planning a bike path that would run from Port Jefferson Station to Wading River.

“My nephew was just an unbelievable person, had such a love for lacrosse — ‘proudly wore the No. 20 for the Miller Place Panthers as goalie’ —and bike riding, he loved life and always had a smile on his face,” Butruch said. “It’s a very sad time, but hopefully through the scholarship, since he never got a chance to go to college or do what he wanted to do in life, other kids can … and he can have a living legacy.”

Nico Signore proudly displays a lacrosse award. Photo from Pam Santo Speedling

Butruch recognized the support of local businesses, including Middle Island Pizza, which has been sending food every day to the Signore family, saying the outpouring of support has given Kim and Vincent, Nico’s father, “an unbelievable feeling” and has “taken them totally by surprise.”

“My sister says her heart is touched, she’s overwhelmed with all the love and support being provided from total strangers,” said Kelly Butruch, Kim’s sister. “They’re brought to tears by all of this, it’s beautiful.”

Nico’s older brother, Vincent Jr., 22, expressed his feelings in an email.

“My little brother was the most perfect, pure person I’ve ever come in contact with,” he wrote. “He could walk into a room full of sadness and light it up like a Christmas tree. People from all over are reaching out with support, love and amazing memories of Nico and it’s really helped put into perspective how many lives he has touched. I would like to personally thank all my close family and friends for being such an amazing support system right now.”

In response to Signore’s death, State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) wrote a letter to the commissioner of the Department of Transportation, requesting a pedestrian/bicycle safety study along the Route 25A corridor to prevent further injuries or deaths, writing that Nico’s accident was “the second tragic fatality of a young student crossing Route 25A in Miller Place in 18 months.”

The family also points to the red light cameras across county intersections as a concern and a possible contributing factor in the accident.

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Annie O’Shea jets down the World Championship track. Photo from the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation

She traveled thousands of miles to the same cold, unforgiving mountains in Europe, Canada and the United States. Small mistakes on ice tracks around the world had robbed her of precious tenths and even hundredths of a second. Not this year though, and not for this new Annie O’Shea.

Annie O’Shea goofs around with friends Kendall Wesenberg, Matt Antoine and Nathan Crumpton. Photo from Annie O’Shea
Annie O’Shea goofs around with friends Kendall Wesenberg, Matt Antoine and Nathan Crumpton. Photo from Annie O’Shea

The Port Jefferson Station native and standout track and field graduate from Comsewogue High School, where her mother Linda works in the district office, spent a dozen years training, racing and demanding more every year in the high speed sport of skeleton racing to get to where she is now.

This year, on the International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation World Cup circuit, O’Shea finally turned tears of anguish into tears of jubilation — finishing no worse than sixth in each of her last six competitions and, in the process, winning precious medals.

“I’ve had some good races here and decent races there in the past, but I’ve never been able to do it more than once or keep the momentum going,” O’Shea said. The positive energy that helped her generate a breakthrough season has created a “great feeling” for O’Shea.

Her run started on her home track of Lake Placid, site of the 1980 Miracle on Ice Olympics, where she often felt pressure to do well. In the second week of January, she sprinted past a cacophony of cowbells and encouraging shouts from a supportive crowd for about five seconds, dove headfirst on her sled and earned her first World Cup gold medal. Her performance easily surpassed her ninth-place finish on the same track a year earlier.

Annie O’Shea competes at the World Championship in Igls, Austria. Photo from the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation
Annie O’Shea competes at the World Championship in Igls, Austria. Photo from the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation

From there, it was off to Park City, where she came in fourth, narrowly missing a medal. Undeterred, O’Shea trekked to Whistler, Canada where she collected the second silver medal of her career. She won her first silver World Cup medal four years earlier in La Plagne, France.

O’Shea ended the season in fourth place overall, a mere seven points away from third. She also finished the World Championship race in Igls, Austria, which includes four different heats, in fifth place, a personal best.

“It’s been many, many, many years coming,” O’Shea said. “This is worlds different from how last year ended. I feel like a different person in a really good way.”

She attributes much of her successful season to developments that started last summer, when she started working with a life coach.

Brett Willmott, her conditioning coach and the associate Head Track and Field Coach at the University of Vermont, said O’Shea took important steps last summer not just mentally, but physically as well.

“When she finished the season last year, she was beaten up a little bit,” he said. “Things didn’t go the way she wanted. She had a foot-down moment” where she addressed her challenges head on. By June, the “workouts were going better than they were before.”

Annie O’Shea, second from right, poses for a photo with fellow athletes and friends. Photo from Annie O’Shea
Annie O’Shea, second from right, poses for a photo with fellow athletes and friends. Photo from Annie O’Shea

During the season, she also bought into head coach Tuffy Latour’s philosophy of believing in the process. She has also bonded with a close-knit group of teammates, including rookie Kendall Wesenberg and men’s sliders Matt Antoine and Nathan Crumpton.

“She did all the right things and put everything together at the right time,” said Latour. “I push on all the athletes to believe in one step at a time and to minimize their distractions.”

Latour said athletes are sometimes their own worst enemies, especially when they are so focused on results that they forget about all the little adjustments they need to make to succeed.

Latour suggested that O’Shea has turned a corner, and become a “real team leader.”

O’Shea said she’s stopped paying attention to the clock and concentrated on staying in the moment.

“I focus on what’s right in front of me and not what’s behind me or four corners ahead, because I didn’t get there yet,” she said.

O’Shea’s mother recalls all the times she took her daughter to practices for Empire State games. In the last dozen years, she and her husband John made the six-hour trek up to Lake Placid to watch their daughter live as she flew by overhead on the track. When O’Shea competes in Europe, her mom gets up at 3:30 in the morning to watch her.

“When she’s finished with a race, I can always tell whether she’s happy or not,” Linda O’Shea said. The time she spent supporting her daughter is time she “wouldn’t give back for anything.”

The 28-year old skeleton racer said she knows her family is always watchimg her and appreciates their support, particularly during the years when everything didn’t come together the way it did this year.

“My mom and dad and sisters all reminded me of how proud of they are of me,” O’Shea said. Hearing how happy they are with her success this year “makes me feel like [the medals are] not just for me. It’s for all of us.”

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