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Suffolk County Marathon

Steve Cuomo speaks about the achievements of Rolling Thunder, one of the marathon teams raising money for athletes with special needs. Photo by Colm Ashe

By Colm Ashe

Last year Suffolk County laced up their running shoes and got moving in support of the first ever Suffolk County Marathon: Freedom Fest, an event dedicated to raising money for local veteran services.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and sponsors, including Catholic Health Services, organized the first ever 26.2 mile race last year, which raised more than $160,000.

This year, they hope to continue their success at the second annual Freedom Fest on Oct. 30 — but their vision has expanded beyond just aiding local veterans.

On July 21, Bellone held a press conference to announce the marathon, half marathon and 5k, that will allow registrants to run for their own charitable causes.

Though Bellone’s goal when organizing the event was to raise funds for Suffolk County veterans — a community of over 90,000 — he said he believes there are other causes worthy of a champion. He is welcoming anyone with a cause to join the event and raise money for their philanthropic mission.

Bellone does this with the hope that people will “utilize the marathon in a way that will raise funds for other wonderful organizations” in addition to supporting our veterans. Many teams came to the press conference to speak about their cause.

Among those who came to represent their cause was Team Liberty, an organization dedicated to raising funds and awareness about organ donation. Christian Siems, a 22-year old team member from Greenlawn, could be seen sporting the silver medal he won this summer at the Transplant Games of America — just 14 months after he received his heart transplant. Margaret O’Reilly, another Team Liberty member, could be seen holding a picture of her son, Stephen Valsechi, who passed away but saved the lives of four others by donating his organs.

Siems’ mother, Michele Martines, addressed the state of organ donation in Suffolk County and said even though New York accounts for 10 percent of the national waiting list for organs, we rank among the lowest when it comes to registered organ donors. She strives to help NY “come out of last place and go to first place.”

Another organization with a team in this year’s marathon is Rolling Thunder, a nonprofit for athletes with special needs. Steve Cuomo spoke for the team and brought up one of their members, Tysheem Griffin, who will be participating in the paralympics in Brazil this year along with one other teammate, Michael Brannigan.

Patty’s Pacers, a team raising money for the Patricia Keane DeGeorge Memorial Scholarship, paid tribute to Patricia at the event by telling her story. They said she was an example of how to triumph in the face of adversity, continuing on with her nursing degree even after being diagnosed with leukemia. A fighter to the very end, she died soon after receiving the news that she had graduated nursing school. Her spirit lives on in Patty’s Pacers.

A team representing Mothers Against Drunk Driving also came to represent their cause. Richard Mallow, the NYS executive director for MADD, said his team is hoping to change Suffolk County from leading the state in drunk driving incidents.

The Airborne Tri Team joined the event to continue their efforts in serving mentally and physically disabled war veterans. Their team is made up of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.

The teams at the event are not the only ones bringing their personal passions to the race. Thousands of people have signed up to run in this year’s race in October. From people aspiring to meet health goals to teams of veterans running in honor of their fellow troops and veterans, all have stories to tell.

Visit www.suffolkmarathon.com to represent a cause, create a team, help contribute to veteran services, or join the race.

Erin Henderson training for inaugural Suffolk County race

By Julianne Cuba

Erin Henderson runs in the Tallahassee Marathon in which she finished third. Photo from Henderson
Erin Henderson runs in the Tallahassee Marathon in which she finished third. Photo from Henderson

Each morning before caring for her 12 children, Long Island native Erin Henderson sets out for her daily run, which can cover anywhere from 10 to 20-plus miles. These days, part of Henderson’s training includes preparing for Suffolk County’s inaugural marathon on Sept. 13, 2015.

“Every marathon means a lot to me because they all represent weeks and months of hard training, commitment and dedication,” she said. “Getting to race through my home town and having friends and family there will make it that much more special.”

Henderson, who grew up in Selden, moved to Afton, Wyoming, with her husband, Josh, and their three biological sons in 2000.

Two years after settling in Afton, the Henderson clan began growing. Since 2002, Henderson and her husband have adopted nine children —  five girls and four boys. Three of the kids were “older child adoptions” and five were “special needs adoptions.”

Today, the Hendersons’ perfect dozen includes Mercades, 19; Nathan, 18; Ryan, 17; Destinee, 17; Shane, 15; Benjamin, 14; Maggie, 13; Amanda, 13; Marcus, 11; Belane, 11; Solomon, 9; and Noah, 6.

A horseback riding accident left Henderson unable to have any more kids. But with three boys the couple decided to adopt because they wanted a girl.

The Henderson family. Photo from Erin Henderson
The Henderson family. Photo from Erin Henderson

“Our motivation was all pretty much what we wanted, and then when we got over [to Vietnam] we saw so many kids who didn’t have families, and it kind of flip-flopped,” she said. “And it’s cliché to say it’s life changing, but it just was, to see all these kids without parents. We never set out to have 12 kids; it was all one at a time. We just saw a kid that was waiting and they were meant to be with us.”

The Hendersons’ youngest child, Noah, is from Ethiopia and has cerebral palsy. When Noah first joined the family at nine months old, the Hendersons were told he would never sit up on his own.

“He’s a miracle … now he climbs, and goes to school and doing really well,” she said. “He gets into everything. He knows some words and he does some science.”

When she’s not spending time with family, Henderson is either training for marathons herself or training others as a Road Runners Club of America certified running coach and a USA Track & Field certified coach.

Erin Henderson and her husband, Josh. Photo from Henderson
Erin Henderson and her husband, Josh. Photo from Henderson

Henderson, who just turned 38, said she went for her first run in April of 2009 after realizing she needed to start taking care of her own body. It started with a Wii Fit the family received as a Christmas gift from her husband’s sister in December 2008, she said.

“I knew I was overweight at that point,” she said. “The first time you use it, it makes a cartoon character of you, and it inflates or deflates your character. It literally like blew up; it said I was obese. For some reason, just seeing that on screen, I thought, ‘OK enough. It’s time to do something about it.’”

Henderson said she used the Wii Fit for about four months before heading outdoors to run. Just about a year and a half after that, Henderson ran her first marathon in December 2010. She has now completed 17 marathons, including ones in Boston, New York City, Las Vegas, Walt Disney World and Hartford. And she’s certainly not done yet.

Henderson’s running coach, Ray Nelson, is from Cranston, Rhode Island. He’s been coaching Henderson for just over a year now, and the two communicate mainly via phone and email and sometimes in person before races if their schedules allow it.

“She is an extremely hard worker, very diligent in her training and willing to make sacrifices to try to get in her best shape possible but at the same time without shortchanging any of her family. She definitely has her hands full,” Nelson said.

Erin Henderson will run in the first Suffolk County marathon. Photo from Henderson
Erin Henderson will run in the first Suffolk County marathon. Photo from Henderson

Henderson’s husband, a graphic designer and Wyoming native, said supporting each other enriches their relationship, and he can’t imagine his life now without his family.

“Most people don’t set out to do what they think is impossible,” he said.  “My wife is different — she dives right in. She goes in and gets it.”

He also added that he was always a football player growing up, never a runner, but through supporting and running with his wife he was able to run the NYC marathon last year.

“I wouldn’t have ran that marathon had it not been for my wife running,” he said. “I would never have said to myself, ‘you know what? I think I’ll train for a marathon.’”

Henderson said a few of her accomplishments include winning a half marathon, qualifying for the Boston Marathon and taking third overall in the Tallahassee Marathon.

But Henderson’s greatest accomplishments in life all involve her family, she said.

To follow Erin’s journey, visit her blog at www.seemomrunfar.blogspot.com.  To find out more about the Suffolk County Marathon visit www.suffolkmarathon.com.