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Ed Darcey

Personal Fitness in Rocky Point. Photo from Facebook

By Kevin Redding

A Rocky Point fitness club owner is determined to get people in shape — inside the gym and beyond it.

Since 1989, North Shore residents have been going to Personal Fitness on Route 25A not just to run on the treadmill and get fit for beach season. They go to have their lives transformed by Ed Darcey, the gym’s owner, trainer and “overall cheerleader and therapist,” according to gym members, who are made up of athletes, parents, children, developmentally disabled residents, people in wheelchairs and those struggling with drugs, alcohol or abuse.

Ed Darcey, owner of Personal Fitness in Rocky Point, training a client. Photo from Facebook

“Ed is an inspirational, motivational, kind, empowering and passionate trainer,” said Faith Powers-Raynis, who joined the gym after suffering a spinal cord disease that paralyzed her from the waist down. “Ed is helping me to rebuild the muscles that I lost … I know with Ed’s help, I just might get back on my feet.”

“He’s a wonderful soul,” Lisa Monaco said. “He makes you feel comfortable and pushes you as far as you can go.”

Rob Geneva, a longtime customer turned staff member, said Darcey makes the atmosphere feel less like you’re in a gym and more like the bar from “Cheers.”

“Anybody is welcome and you just get that feeling right when you come in,” he said. “You’re not intimidated.”

Darcey, 54, a Shoreham native and Riverhead High School graduate, said he has always felt a need to help and protect those around him, whether it was a kid at school being bullied or a homeless person on the street asking for money. It’s a feeling that remains.

“If someone needs a hand, I’m going to try and reach out and do my best to help, especially those whose lives maybe aren’t what they should be,” Darcey said. “A lot of our members here see the gym as an outlet, like a second home. Sometimes they’re more comfortable here than they are at their actual home. They come here, get in shape and we all root each other on. I’m trying to help give them a better life if I can.”

A football player throughout high school, Darcey pursued a degree in physical education and health at C.W. Post, where he received his gym certification after three years. In his late 20s, he decided to take advantage of some empty space next door to his parent’s long-running carpet business on Route 25A, and he’s been there ever since.

“From the beginning, I tried to make it very personal and hands-on,” he said. “Lots of other gyms are these big franchises. This is a family-type atmosphere. We have members that have wheelchairs and walkers, and kids with cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. But in my gym, everybody’s the same. Some may have different limitations and abilities, but they’re all the same to me.”

The first time Rocky Point resident Rich Grundmann went to the gym, he saw a young woman with Down syndrome running on a treadmill and mentioned to a nearby trainer that his 12-year-old son Alex had cerebral palsy, wondering if he’d be able to get involved with the gym. The trainer encouraged the father to bring him by.

“After just one session there, my son just lit up,” Grundmann said. “And the personal attention they gave him was incredible. He’s been through all sorts of therapy, personal and occupational, but the trainers here really pushed him and he loves it. It’s amazing the amount of strength he’s built up since going there.”

Alex, he said, moves around in a walker and sometimes a wheelchair, and has a lot of spasticity. The trainers work on stretching his legs and arms to gain more mobility.

Ed Darcey, owner of Personal Fitness in Rocky Point. Photo from Facebook

“It gets frustrating for him at school because he looks around and he wants to do all the sports the other kids do and wants to feel like a regular teenager,” his father said. “But whenever he leaves the gym, he’s on cloud nine. There’s something about that place and Ed where everyone fits in. It’s like a big family.”

Amy Dias of Middle Island, who sustained a traumatic brain injury after a car accident on Middle Country Road in 2003, said Personal Fitness helped her feel confident again. Following the accident, which left her in a coma for nine months, doctors told Dias she would never speak or move again. A year after she joined the gym, she was walking with a cane and talking. She even lives on her own now.

“I’m not afraid to talk to people now and they definitely strengthened my right side, which got affected most,” Dias said. “I love everyone at the gym. Ed is wonderful and really helped me.”

And how did he do the impossible?

“He cares,” she said. “He honestly cares about every individual person.”

The gym owner also helps out in the local community, frequently lending a charitable hand to Ridge Full Gospel Christian Church, where he recently helped to feed and clothe the homeless on Thanksgiving. He raises funds and promotes any and all shelters and charity drives in the area, and is a regular contributor to Betty’s Closet, a store inside the Rocky Point Middle School cafeteria that helps raise money and collect toys and food for families in need.

“Whenever I post something about an upcoming event on my page, he’s always ready to help,” said Betty Loughran, the Rocky Point PTA member who created Betty’s Closet. “He gets all the gym members involved, donates gift cards and goods and whatever the community needs. He’s just a really good person. The gym is always open and if kids in the community are ever in trouble and need a place to go, he’s there for them.”

Longtime Rocky Point resident Betty Loughran, opened a store inside the Rocky Point Middle School cafeteria, to help raise money for students and local families in need. Photo by Desirée Keegan

By Desirée Keegan

What was intended to be a one-time act of kindness by a Rocky Point PTA member has blossomed into a venture that relentlessly helps community members in need.

Rocky Point resident Betty Loughran, who graduated from the district, had been a member of the PTA for over five years before the day Rocky Point Middle School Principal Scott O’Brien mentioned to her a family that uprooted from Florida had moved into the area with almost nothing but the clothes on their backs. It was wintertime, and the family couldn’t afford clothes. So as O’Brien was telling Loughran teachers were scrambling to figure out a way to help, she decided to take matters into her own handsHer family was used to giving clothes away, so she gave her needy new neighbors clothes, and then came up with the idea to start something like a closet at the middle school. That’s how Betty’s Closet was formed.

“Every time a student is in need of something, like pants, sweatpants, a sweatshirt or jacket, they go up to my closet and take whatever they need,” she said. “And then I just replenish it the best I can.”

Some of the items sold inside the Rocky Point Middle School Store. Photo by Desirée Keegan

She found that there were so many families and students in need coming to the closet she went a step further in 2014 and created the Rocky Point Middle School store, where she sells discounted products like toys and clothes to kids during lunch. A portion of the proceeds goes toward replenishing the items sold at the store, while the rest goes toward helping families in need.

Loughran has made a huge impact in the community around the holidays, but she’s helping all year long. She once purchased dress pants and shoes so a Rocky Point freshman of a single father could get a job at McDonald’s. She has given sneakers to a student whose only pair had holes in them, and a pair of tennis shoes to another who would’ve failed gym class without them. She purchased socks for a student who came to school crying because his were wet every day. Last year, another family moved into the neighborhood with very little furniture. The mother was sleeping on the floor, so Loughran decided to go out and buy her a bed.

“I told myself, ‘I’m doing this to help people,’” she said. “It’s the little things that go a long way.”

Before she gets to work as a kindergarten teacher at St. Anthony’s Small Friars preschool in Rocky Point, Loughran stops at the shop to stock the shelves, then leaves it in the hands of parent volunteers like Samantha Netburn.

“I feel good that we’re helping so many people in the community,” Netburn said. “You just don’t even realize. A family next door could be suffering. You give to receive, and I have the time. It’s nice to know we stick together as a community.”

Loughran researches the newest things for kids, and tries to buy items every kid can afford. Local business owners help Loughran in her efforts, like Port Jeff Sports owner Bob LoNigro, who gives whatever he can, including shirts and sweatshirts to stock the store. Loughran’s friend of more than 15 years said no one does more than she does for the community.

“She supplies for so many kids. Betty Loughran has a heart of gold and loves the community that she grew up in. She is a wonderful person that we could not live without.”

— Denice Shaughnessy

“She’s an absolute machine,” LoNigro said. “She takes it to another level. She blows me away. She is someone who does so much for so many, and whatever I can do to help her, I’m more than happy to do it.”

Ed Darcey, owner of Personal Fitness Club Inc. in Rocky Point, said Loughran works tirelessly so that families can have some sense of normalcy.

“She goes all day,” he said. “It’s incredible what she does. First we did toy drives, then food drives, and she works all year round. So many families need assistance, and she always puts herself out there if anyone needs it. We need more people like her. She’s someone you’d want in every school. She’s an angel on Earth. She’s selfless. Her goal is just to help others.”

An employee at the district said she wished more people were so dedicated to helping others like Loughran.

“Without her work, this community would have nothing, because nobody else does it,” Rocky Point Middle School secretary Denice Shaughnessy said. “She supplies for so many kids. Betty Loughran has a heart of gold and loves the community that she grew up in. She is a wonderful person that we could not live without. Whether it’s giving something big or small, she’s always giving of herself and her time to see that others are taken care of.”

Loughran isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.

“I think it’s important to understand that giving to your neighbors is a good thing,” she said. “It’s amazing how big this has grown in such a short time, and it’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it. That one family that you meet that you make really happy — you put a smile on their face — that’s why I do it. In the end, you’re giving to someone that really, really needs it. That’s what it’s all about.”

To donate to Loughran’s cause, visit her public group on Facebook Betty’s Closet/Middle School Store, or contact Rocky Point Middle School at 631-744-1603.