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Marcum Workplace Challenge race gives LIers chance to support good causes -- and each other

Jessica and Brad Berman at their home in

Jessica and Brad Berman at their home in Larchmont on July 10, 2014. He is recovering from a stroke last August. A team at insurer BWD Group LLC in Plainview is participating on his behalf in the Marcum Workplace Challenge on July 29. The BWD team will raise money for the Run4Brad Fund, which benefits those with traumatic brain injuries. Photo Credit: Jeremy Bales

Listening to a doctor's advice changed Judi Cestaro's life, and has helped her do the same for others.

Cestaro, 57, began running after being inspired by a doctor at the Suffolk hematology office where she was a lab technician in the 1980s.

"He was very into running, always talking about running and I was getting the feeling that this was what I really wanted to do," recalled Cestaro, who was 30 at the time.

When she later began attending Adelphi University in Garden City, she met Robert Otto, a professor of exercise science, health studies, physical education and sport management, who motivated her to take her running -- which she did to relieve stress and get more exercise -- to the next level.

Cestaro, of Bayport, has done that and more, captaining the team at Farmingdale State College that will participate in the Marcum Workplace Challenge on July 29.

Also participating will be the team from BWD Group LLC, a commercial insurance company based in Plainview that works with the National Hockey League. They, will run on behalf of Brad Berman, a marathon runner recovering from a stroke that felled him last August as he prepared to train for the New York City Marathon.


Benefiting several causes

The Marcum Workplace Challenge began in 2005 when Marcum, a public accounting firm, took over the JPMorgan Corporate Challenge after the company decided to drop the Long Island race. That event continues in Central Park.

About 11,000 participants from more than 200 area companies will participate in this year's Marcum event, a 31/2-mile run/walk at Jones Beach State Park, hoping to raise money for the Long Island Children's Museum, the Children's Medical Fund of New York and Long Island Cares -- The Harry Chapin Food Bank, charities chosen by Marcum, and maybe win one of the many awards given out.

Cestaro, a grandmother and director of transfer services at Farmingdale State, has been captain of the school's team for the past 14 years. She said the event is an opportunity to show that anyone can accomplish their goals at any age, and she would know.

Cestaro dropped out of high school, married and had her first child by the time she was 16. (The couple later divorced.) The hematology lab doctor's enthusiasm for running began to inspire her to do more with her life, so she decided to go back to school to get her degree. By then she had earned her GED and remarried, and in 1988, on the last day of registration, she signed up for a class at Farmingdale State with the encouragement of her husband, Randy.

"I wouldn't have done anything without him," she said.

Cestaro started off as a nonmatriculated student since she did not meet any of the entrance requirements, and worked hard to pay for school out of pocket while attending class, raising two children and running.

"I was the oldest person in the program," Cestaro said. "The kids were impressed."

She was valedictorian of her 1992 class and was awarded a $20,000 academic scholarship from Adelphi to study there. That's where she met Otto, and his encouragement motivated Cestaro, who was by then 38, to run in her first race, the Entenmann's Great South Bay Run.

"I really pride myself in being an athlete," she said. "I am any woman and every woman. I'm not the fastest runner, but I am an athlete. Anyone can do it."

Cestaro, who has a master's in industrial organizational psychology from Hofstra and a degree in fitness from Suffolk County Community College, formed the Flyers team at Farmingdale State in 2001. She said the name was inspired by the college's aviation program. The team practices throughout the year and runs in races together, she said, adding that there are 35 people on this year's team.

"It doesn't matter who you are, the day of the race everybody puts the team shirt on and they're a Flyer," Cestaro said.


Running for a marathoner

When the BWD Group team runs in the Marcum Workplace Challenge, Brad Berman won't be among them physically, but he will be in spirit. The Run4Brad team of 12 runners inspired by him and his recovery will raise money and awareness for the Run4Brad Fund, which collects money for those recovering from traumatic brain injury like Berman, formerly a lawyer for General Electric.

Berman's life changed drastically on Aug. 4, 2013. He was getting ready to train to run in the New York City Marathon, which would have been his fourth marathon, but while getting a drink of water at his home in Westchester, he got a headache and called his wife, Jessica, who came home to find him on the floor.

Berman, 38 and a father of two, was taken to Westchester Medical Center and underwent emergency surgery, which revealed that he had suffered a massive hemorrhagic stroke.

"We had no warning," Jessica Berman said. "He had no symptoms; he was in perfect health."

Berman was born with an arteriovenous malformation, a congenital malfunction that causes a tangle of arteries and veins in the brain. The stroke put Berman in a coma, during which time doctors performed a tracheotomy and inserted a feeding tube in his stomach.

When he woke up about a month later, he had to learn how to breathe, talk and walk again. The left side of his body was paralyzed and he had no short-term memory.

After four months in the hospital, Berman began to slowly recover and was able to go home. He recently had gamma knife radio surgery at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside to turn the malformation into scar tissue.

His wife said most of her husband's doctors considered Berman's recovery a "miracle." He can now talk, eat on his own and walk using a cane.

"I think most people don't survive this kind of injury," she said. "The ones that do survive have a slower, potentially not as great of a recovery. He still has a long way to recover, but he has shown he can surpass."

Berman's story inspired insurer BWD Group to form its first Workplace Challenge team and run in his honor. Jessica Berman is deputy general counsel and vice president at the NHL, which works with the Plainview-based insurer.

"It's a huge honor," Brad Berman said. "I'm very appreciative."


This year's Marcum Workplace Challenge starts at 7 p.m. July 29 at Jones Beach State Park at the Nikon Theatre, Field 5.

It will be the largest ever, with an expected 13,000 spectators in addition to the thousands of runners, walkers and team members participating, said Jeff Bloch, event manager for the Workplace Challenge. At 11 a.m., companies will begin setting up their tents. For the second year, Marcum will have a special VIP tent for all the sponsors, beneficiaries and team captains.

To accommodate the participants and spectators for the weekday Challenge, the Field 5 parking lot and part of the Bay Parkway will be closed to vehicle traffic.

When the race is over, the day-after post-mortem planning will begin for the 2015 run/walk.


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