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Walks raise money for, awareness of ALS, Parkinson's disease, brain aneurysms

Hundreds turned out Saturday for the events on Jones Beach, Eisenhower Park in East Meadow and Marjorie R. Post Community Park in Massapequa.

Andrea Irizarry, 70, left, walks with her husband,

Andrea Irizarry, 70, left, walks with her husband, Elvin, 76, center, and daughter Jennie, 45, at the Optimism Walk for Parkinson's disease at Marjorie Post Park in Massapequa on Saturday. Photo Credit: Bryan Bennett

With clear skies and a gentle breeze, the last day of summer provided perfect conditions for awareness walks across Long Island.

On Saturday, Eisenhower Park in East Meadow hosted the 18th annual Long Island Walk to Defeat ALS. At Jones Beach, more than 1,200 people came for the 10th annual Brain Aneurysm Awareness Walk and in Massapequa the Optimism Walk to fund services for people with Parkinson’s disease took place.

About 300 people gathered at Marjorie R. Post Community Park in Massapequa, helping to raise about $62,000 for the American Parkinson Disease Association, an association spokeswoman said.  

Before the walk, music played and Rock Steady Boxing, a national nonprofit that offers noncontact boxing classes geared toward people with Parkinson’s, led the crowd in stretches.

Donald McCarthy, 55, of Central Islip, bent down to touch his right hand to his left foot, heaved himself back up and repeated the exercise before making the one-mile loop around the park. McCarthy was there to support one of his church leaders at St. Mark Remnant Ministries in Central Islip, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about a year ago.

“It’s fantastic, great to see all the support and the community coming together,” McCarthy said.

Elizabeth Peppard, 51, of Garden City arrived at the park early to help people register. Peppard came out on behalf of her father, John Lundie, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s three years ago.

This is the first year the Long Island Optimism Walk has been held since 2014, and Peppard said she was grateful to see it return.

“I think when you come together and can be with other families who understand what it’s like to live with Parkinson’s or have a family member who has the disease, it can be such a comfort,” Peppard said.

Kristen Cocoman, the president and CEO of the ALS Association of Greater New York, also stressed the role awareness events play in community-building. Saturday's walk around Eisenhower Park had more than 4,000 participants who have helped raise about $500,000 for the ALS Association.

“It can be an isolating disease,” Cocoman said of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. “Sometimes it’s not until you come out to these walks that you see there are thousands of people that understand what you’re going through.”    

Steve Calzolano, 59, of Levittown, helped kick off this year’s Brain Aneurysm Awareness Walk at Jones Beach State Park, which raised about $100,000 for Northwell Health’s Brain Aneurysm Center and the Brain Aneurysm Foundation. Calzolano suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm last October, and hopes that by sharing his experience he can help raise awareness of the condition in which a blood vessel bulges or balloons.

“Before this, I didn’t really know what a brain aneurysm was or how deadly it can be,” Calzolano said. "Now I know how lucky I am, and I saw this as my chance to give back.”

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