A 55-year-old ultra runner from Bethpage, dedicated to spreading awareness of vital health issues, completed his 320-mile journey around Long Island on Sunday.
Wai Law finished up the challenging route with a 28-mile leg that took him from Huntington to Stony Brook. While doing so he raised money for research on Parkinson’s disease and to fund mental health services for young people.
So far this year, he has raised over $18,000 for the Hartman Center and the Adolescent Medicine Fund for Excellence, which helps Stony Brook’s Department of Adolescent Medicine provide mental health support and resources to young people on Long Island.
“Running is my passion,” said Law, an accountant, who was greeted by his wife, Amy, daughter, Katie and other family members as well as friends and supporters on Sunday afternoon at Stony Brook University. “If along the way I can use it to promote something good, that’s a gift.”
Last year, Law ran from Buffalo to Battery Park to benefit the Thomas Hartman Center for Parkinson’s Research at Stony Brook University.
This year, he embarked on seven days of running that started on July 22, taking him from Stony Brook to Orient Point, Montauk, Westhampton, Seaford, Williamsburg in Brooklyn, then to Huntington and ending in Stony Brook.
He divided the journey into two legs, running from July 22 to July 24 and then from July 28 to July 31. Although he had some running companions along the way, Law often had to rely on the kindness of residents and business owners along the way for water and other amenities.
Law said the most difficult part of the run may have been that first day from Stony Brook to Orient Point.
“We were in the middle of the heat wave and I’m running next to all the cars,” he said, adding the roads had very narrow shoulders. “I ran out of water a couple of times … luckily I was able to get some from the houses or nurseries nearby.”
He runs in memory of Ruben Almodovar who died in 2017 after a 12-year battle with Parkinson’s disease. Law’s close friend is Dennis Almodovar, 55, of Massapequa, Ruben’s son.
“It’s an amazing gesture that he’s done because as an ultra runner myself, I know what’s involved in doing something like this,” Dennis Almodovar said. “I would not be able to do it. So what he’s doing is really phenomenal to me and it means everything to me that he’s doing it in my father’s name.”
Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that causes “unintended or uncontrollable movements, such as shaking, stiffness, and difficulty with balance and coordination,” according to the National Institutes of Health.
The disease can make it difficult for people to walk and talk and can also cause sleep problems, depression, memory difficulties and fatigue.
“There’s a whole series of symptoms that are not just the tremor and it’s important to do research both to cure the tremor, but also to address those symptoms,” said Alfredo Fontanini, professor and chairman of Stony Brook University’s department of neurobiology and behavior, which houses the Hartman Center. “I think that’s extremely important and it’s probably not talked about enough.”
Fontanini said the money will help pay for “high risk, high reward” research ideas that are often more difficult to get funded.
“Federal agencies are great at funding ideas that already have a lot of data and a lot of evidence but the most innovative ideas are sometimes risky but can be groundbreaking,” he said. “That’s what the Hartman Center does.”
“Mental health is something that adolescents and young adults have struggled with for a very long time and the pandemic really has made things even worse and harder for that group,” said Dr. Allison Eliscu, chief of adolescent medicine at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. “There’s a lot of negative stigma about getting help for mental health and admitting that you have a problem. So this is an excellent way to really raise awareness about this problem.”