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Long Island

Man's 111-mile walk across Long Island raises money in the fight against cancer

Desmond Cooke, 56, of Commack said he would walk from Old Westbury to Montauk lighthouse Thursday, Friday and Saturday in memory of his brother-in-law and his wife’s aunt, who both died of cancer. Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of his aunt’s death. He said he planned to finish the 111-mile walk in three days. He wants to raise $25,000 for two cancer foundations. Credit: Newsday / Morgan Campbell

Desmond Cooke walked gingerly, favoring his left side, as he reached the point where Montauk Highway becomes Hill Street in Southampton. 

He hugged his sister, Joan Adams, then eased himself down onto the curb. Friday was his second consecutive day of walking more than 30 miles to raise money for cancer research, and his feet were covered in blisters.

“I’m feeling it,” he said. 

Still, he had one more day of walking ahead of him.

Cooke, 56, of Commack, started the project to walk 111 miles in three days from Old Westbury to Montauk in the memory of his brother-in-law Michael Adams, who died six years ago of pancreatic cancer, and his aunt, Gail Villani, who died last year of melanoma. 

By the time he finished the walk Saturday, he had  already raised more than $20,000 for the Woodbury-based Lustgarten Foundation, which supports pancreatic cancer research, and the Melanoma Research Foundation.

Cooke said that for the past several years he has walked at least six miles a day to stay fit. One day he decided he would try and use the habit to support cancer research. 

“I just decided I was going to do something for both of them,” Cooke said.

Cooke began the walk Thursday near his late aunt's home in Old Westbury and finished Saturday evening at Montauk Lighthouse, where Adams' ashes had been scattered . 

He set off at 5 a.m. Thursday and ended close to Smithtown around 3 p.m. He loaded up on pasta and quickly fell asleep, waking the next morning to begin again at 5 a.m. where he had left off.

By then there were little clusters of blisters on his soles, and when he reached Middle Island, he had to slip a second sock onto his right foot, which had begun to bleed.

Cooke’s sons accompanied him for part of the trip, and his brother-in-law Henry Valerio, 60, of Lake Grove met him for the last few miles Friday.

Valerio said Cooke had wilted in the humidity but perked up in Centereach when a woman recognized him while driving and chased him down to hand him a five-dollar bill.

“I was really dragging at that point, but to feel that bit of love really helped,” Cooke said.


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