Seniors celebrated for surpassing hurdles

Sondra Rose, left, of Cedarhurst is honored as Sondra Rose, left, of Cedarhurst is honored as Queen by AGES chairperson Rita Medaglio-Barrera, right at Savvy Senior Day, hosted by AGES, celebrating Grandparent's Day at the American Legion Post 1066 in Massapequa. (Sept. 9, 2012) Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

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Sondra Rose of Cedarhurst recalled being heartbroken when her grandson Jack was diagnosed with Stage 3 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"What could I do?" she had wondered. She could cook, so she would cook. And she was a prolific fundraiser, so she would raise funds.

Four years, 11 half-marathons, and close to $200,000 raised later, her 7-year-old grandson from Westchester is in remission. For her efforts, Rose, 74, Sunday was crowned Queen of the Savvy Senior Day at the American Legion in Massapequa -- on Grandparents Day.

The Association of Generational Experts for Seniors -- a Melville-based elder care advocacy group -- honored Rose and 25 other seniors in a lunch reception that included the coronation of a king and queen and tap dance performances. The honorees came from Nassau and Suffolk counties, and were nominated by neighbors, co-workers and friends.

"They all have struggled in their life, and they have overcome that," said Rita Medaglio-Barrera, the group's chairwoman. "They have become strong and have the compassion and inspiration for all of us to admire."

Before Rose started raising funds for leukemia research, she was tracking down donors for juvenile diabetes, after she learned a friend's relative was ill.

The leukemia fundraising proved more intense. She trained for the races, which she walks. The biggest hurdle: in one race, maintaining a 16-minute minimum mile. "I was so nervous," she said, but "I was able to do it."

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Sunday's king was Peter Vannucci, 81, of Northport. In the decade after he turned 50, he gained 50 pounds, and in 1993, suffered a heart attack. His doctor issued strict orders, the worst of it banning skiing at high altitudes. For years, Vannucci would ski at altitudes between 2,000 and 3,000 feet, while he worked on getting in shape.

The Korean War veteran is now healthier, he said, adding that he's dieting. A new medication has helped reduce the blockage in his arteries, clearing him for higher-altitude skiing. The best measure of his recovery came in February, when he was skiing with his grandson in Utah, at 12,000 feet and a temperature below zero, Vannucci said.

"It's given me my life back," he said. "To be able to ski with my grandson and hear him say, 'Hey Grandpa, take it easy,' was just a gift that I'd like to share with seniors and veterans: You can develop a much better quality life."

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