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Women of Team LIV fighting cancer one mile at a time
They come from all over Long Island -- Levittown, Islip, West Hempstead, Woodmere, Baldwin Harbor, Greenlawn, Farmingdale, Port Washington, Hicksville, Old Bethpage, Patchogue, Medford and Mattituck -- and 39 years separate the youngest and oldest members of their team.
But the 16 women who go by the name “Long Island Victorious,” or Team LIV, share one common goal: obliterating cancer. They plan to make an impact in the war on the disease this year by raising $100,000, the amount needed to fund a research project.
“This is a dream turned into a reality,” said Judy Cutaia, 62, of Port Washington.
Cutaia devised the plan to corral fellow alums of Team in Training, a program of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society that trains amateur athletes for endurance events such as marathons while simultaneously helping them raise funds for LLS.
She has been running with TNT since 2006 and her favorite race is the Nike Women’s Marathon/Half Marathon in San Francisco. It not only has perks like a chocolate station on the course and Tiffany necklaces for all finishers, but it’s sole beneficiary is LLS.
Knowing TNT would be celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2013, the same year the Nike race would turn 10, Cutaia wanted to do something big. It didn’t take her long to round up 15 women -- Tina Bodkin, Jann Sanicola, Erin McIntyre, Kristin Hodulick, Kristine Prazak-Davoli, Tammy Wien, Laurie Martin, Michele Gaglione, Marissa Pesce, Heidi Beattie, Mary Levine, Allison Levine, Carolyn Levine, Kathleen Stanley and Carrie Rittberg -- to run the 13.1-mile half marathon on Oct. 20 and undertake her lofty fundraising goal.
“I had total faith in picking this group of people,” Cutaia said. “We can do it.’”
The cause is personal for all of them, but that wasn’t always the case for Cutaia. She heard about TNT from a friend, and when a postcard arrived in the mail inviting her to an informational session, she went and was hooked. Then, four years ago, her cousin, Mitchell Ruda, of Tuscon, Ariz., was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. He died earlier this week at the age of 63.
“Having a close connection pushed me more,” she said prior to his death. “I said, ‘Enough already.’”
Meanwhile, her teammates have watched their husbands, parents, and in one case, their child, battle blood cancer. Two are survivors themselves including Bodkin, 37, of Levittown.
Bodkin, a mother of three, has been running marathons and raising money through TNT since 2009, shortly after beating Hodgkin lymphoma. Her kids, now ages 9, 7 and 5, still do not know she was ever sick, but she knows one day they will find out. That’s part of her inspiration for doing TNT.
“I want them to see I was sick once upon time, but I overcame it,” she said. “I don’t want them to be scared of cancer. It’s not a death sentence anymore.”
Since April, TEAM LIV has raised more than $76,000 by hosting benefits involving Zumba, stand-up comedy and guest bartending, and solicited friends, family and corporate sponsors.
Holtsville’s Sanicola, a cancer survivor, turned her 50th birthday party into a fundraiser. Hodulick, 38, of Islip, has resorted to practical jokes. For a donation, she’ll “flock” your friends for you, leaving 10 plastic, pink flamingos on their lawn while they’re not home.
More events are planned for September and October including a bar crawl in Farmingdale. If they hit their goal, they’ll become the first Long Island TNT team to fund a research project, said Rich McWalters, campaign manager for LLS Long Island. The dollars might even go to a Long Island-based project, he added.
Many of the team members have seen firsthand how the money raised for LLS -- by “TNTers” who came before them -- have funded treatments that have prolonged their lives or those of their love ones.
“We’re all trying to pay it forward,” said Gaglione, 38, of Farmingdale, whose mother has been in remission since 2010. “I want people to no longer dread the words, ‘You have cancer.’”
That was Hodulick’s motivation for joining TNT in 2008 with her husband, Gideon, after he beat acute promyelocytic leukemia thanks to a treatment protocol developed by a LLS-funded project. The couple subsequently assumed they were raising funds strictly to benefit others, but last February, they learned Gideon’s cancer had returned.
“We never imagined, from 2008 to 2012, that the money we were raising in those years was actually going to furthering the protocol that he is now a part of,” she said.
Hodulick said she wishes there was a way the whole team could be together when they hit the $100,000 mark, adding, “For me, it’s not an ‘if,’ it’s a ‘when.’”
For more information, visit teamliv.org.