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Long Islanders share the most exciting moment of their lives

"When you play well, you get excited. When

"When you play well, you get excited. When you win, it's even better," says Roop Tawney of Commack, who says that the day he won three pingpong matches in a row was the most exciting moment of his life. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

We all know about those exciting life happenings — love, marriage, children, grandchildren. Getting the job we want. Buying that dream home. Making the last mortgage payment. Watching our favorite team win the national championship.

Great moments, for sure. But today's stories take "exciting" and kick it way up because they're far from the checklist of everyday living.

Here, Long Islanders share their stories of uber-exciting times they can't forget.

FELLOWSHIP OF HIS DREAMS

Dr. Way Lee hid his tears throughout the 14-hour journey to the United States. It was his first flight, and it would be his first time overseas. He was 19, alone, scared about leaving his family and friends behind in China, and he did not speak English.

But he was to join his parents, who fled poverty in their industrial city of Ningbo a year earlier to start a new life in Manhattan's Chinatown. That was in 1990. Over the years, Lee would learn English, earn a pharmaceutical degree from The Ohio State University and, later, a medical degree from the University of Cincinnati, and train at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School-Rutgers University.

Today, the Woodbury resident, 47, specializes in bariatric and laparoscopic surgery at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip. The day he got the news that he had been chosen for a competitive fellowship in minimally invasive surgery at Columbia University — the fellowship is the last stage in a surgeon’s training — qualified as the most exciting moment of his life.

The father of two explains why Dec. 7, 2005 — the date he got the news — is so easy to recall. 

IN HIS WORDS:

It was the day my first child was born, and I was working at the hospital where my wife delivered. My son was born in the morning around 9 or 10 o’clock. I got the results about the fellowship on a computer. It was about noontime. I was so excited. My whole body was shaking.

I was newly married, only a year, now with a newborn son. My mom lived in New York City. If I had not gotten the fellowship at Columbia, I would have had to go somewhere else. Then the family would be separated. I said to myself, "Thank God." 

I rushed to the room and told my wife about it. She’s an accountant and she had her own career also. If she followed me for a fellowship elsewhere, then she would have had to quit her job. At that moment, she cried and breathed a sigh of relief.

The moment the news came felt like validation for all the hard work, 15 years of blood, sweat and tears that no one else experienced.

HE STAYED IN THE GAME

When it comes to pingpong, Commack resident Roop Tawney’s favorite saying is, "You don’t stop playing because you get old, you get old because you stop playing."

Tawney picked up the game at 12 when he was living in Mumbai, India. He got so good that he began to win titles. Tawney, 68, an industrial engineer who is a partner in a Connecticut business that designs warehouses and distribution centers for storage, continued to play after he immigrated to the United States in 1976. He practices three days a week with friends. In 2016, he won three matches in the Long Island Table Tennis Premier League finals in Woodbury, a day he describes as the most exciting of his life.

IN HIS WORDS:

It’s a very fast game. You sweat a lot. It’s an amazing feeling. Your reflexes have to be very good. When you play well, you get excited. When you win, it’s even better.

I used to get headlines in newspapers in India for winning at pingpong. But this was the first time I won all my matches in the United States. Winning was like riding in a car at 100 mph. It was invigorating. When I got good shots, I danced. It felt great. I was psyched up. I jumped in the air. I pumped my chest. I didn’t want the moment to end.

Then I celebrated by ordering all the finger food on the menu and all the beer I could have.

THE THRILL OF DISCOVERY

Taking his wife and four children on vacation was a priority for Dr. Peg Martinez’s father, a printer in Jackson Heights, Queens. They piled into their station wagon and explored the East Coast on a series of trips that took them as far north as Nova Scotia and as far south as Florida.

Then he decided the family would see the West Coast, a destination it took him years to save for. They went three times. They would fly to California, then rent a station wagon for road trips to visit national parks. It was their stop at the Grand Canyon that had the greatest impact on Martinez, 62, a chiropractor who lives in Syosset, is a yoga instructor and works in retail. She was about 10 at the time.

IN HER WORDS:

I loved the West Coast. My first time in San Diego, I wanted to move there. I just thought it’s so beautiful. We saw Yellowstone. We saw the sequoias and the redwoods, even drove through a tree — it was so magical. There were tall waterfalls and giant pinecones. Everywhere you turned, something was bubbling, spewing, steaming or gushing. And the mountains were huge.

But being at the Grand Canyon, for sure, was the most exciting moment of my life. It was awe-inspiring. My father decided to rent a plane to see it. I was the youngest, so they let me sit up in the co-pilot’s seat. I remember looking off in the distance and seeing a big rain cloud with lightning coming out of it, but above it was bright blue sky. It is not often you get to see a cross section of the sky from that perspective. I thought, "This is the coolest thing."

Then I remember standing at an overlook. In my head, I was thinking, a river carved this. In a kid’s brain, it’s like, how does that happen? How can water do that? Because it’s massive. And it undulates. And I’m trying to picture how a river looked like a million years before. Was it this little thing? How long did this take? How do you wrap your head around something like that? That water could do that. I was like, God, that’s incredible.

GETTING IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA

After retiring from teaching in the Seaford school district, Massapequa Park’s Linda Maria Frank went on to join the faculties at Hofstra and Adelphi universities. Her areas of expertise, forensic science and biotechnology, soon led her on yet another new path. She wrote two books in what she would title the "Annie Tillery Mysteries."

Her life then took as many twists and turns as the young detective in her series. Frank, 78, the self-published author of four Annie Tillery books, found herself hosting “The Writer’s Dream,” a public-access talk show featuring local authors that can be seen on Altice cable stations and LTV East Hampton. After publishing the books, that moment looking into the lens of a camera to open the premiere of her half-hour show came to be the most exciting moment of her life.

IN HER WORDS:

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994, and then a second time in 2008. I had to have a double mastectomy. For most women, it’s a life-changing event.

At the same time, my father died. I looked around and said life is short. I’m a little stale with what I’m doing right now. I need to take advantage of the remaining years. I have to do something that I feel is exciting and fun and something that I always wanted to do. I decided that I wanted to change my life completely. I had already written two books, but I had put them aside. I decided that I would pick up the two books and try to get them published. I published one in 2010 and the second one in 2011.

What’s even more exciting than publishing the books — and this is close — is I got involved in marketing the books. It’s the most difficult part. I was doing an author’s event at the Riverhead Free Library. The librarian said there was a gentleman who wanted to speak to us. She said he wanted to produce a TV show and that anyone interested should call him. I thought, "This sounds very interesting and what a way to promote my books."

When I called him, he introduced me to the studio and that was enough. I took it from there. I took a training course. They taught me how to do the technical end. They trained me on how to come up with an idea for a show, how to interview. It was very interesting and exciting. I didn’t want to be the host. I didn’t want to be in front of the camera. But I ended up being the host. I was terrified. I really had to muster all of my strength. I did the same thing with the show that I did with teaching. I said to myself, "Linda, it’s not about you, it’s about the kids."

I’m a great believer in daydreams. Anything I’ve ever accomplished in my life and been proud of started as a daydream. Then you start to research your daydream and then your daydream comes true.

CELEBRATED IN HER LIFETIME

In 2016, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Long Island chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, retired educator Terrecita Watkis got the most thrilling news of her life — her sisters in Theta Iota Omega convinced Hempstead Village to dedicate Saint Regis Place, the street where Watkis has lived with her husband for more than five decades, to mark her service to the chapter.

She also was surprised by being voted a charter member of Theta Iota Omega, an arm of the 111-year-old Greek organization founded at Howard University. Watkis, 81, worked for almost 30 years in the Roosevelt school district.

IN HER WORDS:

I’d been here so long. Because of my service to the community, the members of Theta Iota Omega made a petition to have the block renamed. It was approved by the village board. It took a long time and they worked on it, I understand, for over a year.

I was totally unaware of all of this because they wanted it to be a surprise. It is still Saint Regis Place. But above Saint Regis Place there is now a sign that reads "AKA Theta Iota Omega Way." The chapter was established in Hempstead. My mother was an Alpha Kappa Alpha woman and was inducted at her school, Florida A&M University, in the ’30s. I promised her I would never be inactive in Alpha Kappa Alpha. She was an educator. She was the best. She had her own school of business in Florida back when it was unheard of. She would be so proud of me.

I am a thyroid cancer survivor. These last few years since the surgery I have not been able to be quite as active as I once was. I think Theta Iota Omega wanted to surprise me. When I walked into the meeting where the street name dedication would be announced, the chairwoman all of a sudden looked up from her presentation and saw me and stopped, and I wondered why. Then everybody started clapping and I said, "What is going on?"

I took my seat and at the end of her presentation she said, "We decided as a committee that we had to have an honorary chair of our 50th anniversary and we felt there was none better than" — and out of her mouth came my name. I lost it. I really did. I just lost it. I said, "Oh, my God."

This was definitely the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me. It was quite an honor, and the street dedication was a beautiful day. I truly, truly appreciated it. It was a big, big surprise.

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