Tags Posts tagged with "Jennifer McNaughton"

Jennifer McNaughton

Jennifer McNaughton, center, in a recent photo with her sons Ryan, left, and James. Photo from McNaughton family

A late November day in Western New York saw temperatures drop into the 20s with the wind chill making it feel close to zero.

Jennifer McNaughton with her boys when they were younger. Photo from the McNaughton family

Leftover snow from one of the biggest blizzards in modern history whistled around the football stadium at St. Francis High School in Hamburg in suburban Buffalo and there were no amounts of hot cocoa, blankets or layers of clothing that could make the conditions close to bearable. 

Adding to the misery, the St. Anthony’s Friars football team that sat on a cold, dark bus for seven hours in search of a New York State Catholic championship, was getting destroyed — losing by 20 at halftime.

Despite this frozen hellscape of a situation Nov. 30, there was no other place Jennifer McNaughton, a St. Anthony’s Friars mom, would rather have been.

McNaughton, of East Northport, has two sons, Ryan and James. Ryan is a sophomore and plays on the offensive line for the Friars and senior James is currently one of the most successful long-distance runners on Long Island as a member of all three Northport Tigers track and field teams. Jennifer has always been extremely active in their academic and athletic careers from the time that they were small. 

There’s a Mrs. McNaughton, or a Jen, in every town in America. You know — the mom who knows the correct link to order the gear, has practice and game schedules committed to memory, and always carts around a well-stocked cooler of Gatorade in the back of her truck. 

From Cub Scouts den mother to Northport Tigers cross country booster club president to football mom, she is especially busy during the fall sports season, traipsing around the tristate area every weekend to support both of her boys. She is involved with several charitable endeavors and is one of the most well-liked and respected citizens of Northport. 

Around the village, McNaughton cannot walk a short distance without someone stopping her to say hello, ask her a question or just shoot the breeze. But in late August, with the 2022-23 school year just days away, she started to have trouble walking a few feet for any reason at all and would lose her breath doing the simplest of tasks. After a few days of this, she and her husband, James, decided it was time for her to see the doctor. 

The news was not good.

She was diagnosed with massive bilateral pulmonary embolism, in which hundreds of tiny clots impede blood flow in her lungs. Left unchecked, this disease is often fatal and even when checked, it can have extremely negative outcomes. Her first thought was about her family.

“It was James’ senior season and Ryan had made it on to one of the best football teams on Long Island and there was so much good coming to our family this year,” McNaughton recalled thinking in the doctor’s office. “Instead, everyone would remember it as ‘the year that mom died.’ That was very difficult for me to come to grips with.”

Her sons were not thinking about their athletic careers when they learned of her diagnosis.

“My mother has gotten me to the place where I am today,” said Ryan, who is one of a handful of underclassman to get starting reps for the Friars in 2022. “She has supported my brother and I for as long as we can remember in every conceivable way. When they told us what she had, it really knocked us off our feet. We weren’t expecting it to be something so serious. We were stunned.”

After a five-night hospital stay, where she was administered a course of blood thinners, McNaughton’s condition started to abate, and she was able to ease into normal activities around mid-September. Many of these activities entail getting her boys to where they need to be. But make no mistake about this — James and Ryan do not just compete at places like Hauppauge, Connetquot or Longwood like most Suffolk County high school athletes. 

Jennifer McNaughton with her sons when they were younger. Photo from the McNaughton family

Ryan, who comes in the form of a sandy-haired, blue-eyed wrestler, had a stretch of four straight road football games that spanned September and October. Jen and husband James made stops in Piscataway, New Jersey; Rockland County; and the Bronx — twice. She saw every snap.

For James, who is a wiry and reed-thin 6 feet, 2 inches tall with dark eyes and wavy, jet-black hair, the mother routinely traveled to the Armory in Upper Manhattan; the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex in Staten Island; and even as far as Cicero, which is near Syracuse and is a six-hour drive. 

“Whether I run well or don’t run well, it’s always good to know she’s there supporting me,” said Northport senior James, who was the fastest Long Island runner at the New York State cross country championships last month. His mother’s illness “was a huge shock and not something any of us contemplated dealing with. It felt like everything was going upside down.”

Upside down or not, Jennifer McNaughton was determined not to let this setback interfere with her boys and their sports or her other business and philanthropic pursuits. She was moving forward.

“I started to feel better, and I love watching my boys compete,” she said. “I also love being with the other parents who are supporting the teams because it’s like being in a family. These are the moments that I live for.”

Currently on a maintenance program with the blood thinners and her condition improved, she’s intent on organizing cross country team dinners and acting as emcee for raffles at Napper Tandy’s Northport, raising money for charities like the St. Baldrick’s Foundation for pediatric cancer whose Northport chapter has raised over $6 million since its inception in 2002. 

She’s also a volunteer for Splashes of Hope, which supports county homeless shelters, veterans centers and children’s hospitals through the appreciation of art; and the Barbara Frost Community Fund, which raises money for underprivileged kids in Northport and is named for the beloved teacher at Bellerose Elementary who was killed by a drunk driver in 1993. 

On top of these acts of philanthropy, McNaughton has since rebooted her successful party planning and private bookkeeping businesses that had been on pause.

Her friend and fellow Northport mom, Patricia Campoli, is happy to see McNaughton undertaking the things she loves to do.

“Between running a household, her jobs, volunteer work and her two boys, I really don’t know how she does it, said Campoli, whose two sons, Michael and Christian, are on the Northport Tigers football team. “She is so full of knowledge on everything that happens in the community, and she is a wonderful person and a great friend who does everything with a smile on her face. I’m so happy she’s back because I know she loves doing as much as she can, and we love having her here.” 

McNaughton has reasons to smile. “I feel so lucky to still be alive,” she said. “I get up every morning and I cry tears of joy and thank God that I’m still here to do the things I took for granted before my illness.”

For her family, and all the people whose lives she touches around the village, they too feel lucky. As a little bit of added fortune, the St. Anthony’s football team overcame that three-touchdown deficit from St. Francis to win the state Catholic championship, 27-20, on that snowy day near Buffalo — some delicious icy frosting on the 2022 McNaughton family cake.

There are many aspects to Jennifer McNaughton’s benevolent work for the Northport community and her devotion to family, especially in the face of her recent illness, which is why TBR News Media names her a Person of the Year for 2022.