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The Bench 5K draws hundreds of runners to benefit Play Fit-Stay Fit

The participants in the Bench 5K Fun Run

The participants in the Bench 5K Fun Run ignore the rain drops as they wait for the start of the half-mile race at Stony Brook University. (May 11, 2013) Credit: Jordan Gibbons

When Adrianna Oliva, 9, of Stony Brook was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 2, her parents, George and Michele Oliva, said doctors told them the tumor would likely leave their daughter disabled.

They remember specifically that doctors said she would never be able to ride a bike.

Since then, Adrianna has been through seven surgeries, and with the help of physical and occupational therapists and the Play Fit-Stay Fit program at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, has gone from being unable to walk unassisted to running around like any other child. She is fully capable of riding a bike.

“Over the years, we’ve been fortunate to have this as a resource for her, where she can come have fun and interact with other kids in similar situations to work on these issues,” George Oliva, 39, said of Play Fit-Stay Fit. “This program is one of the reasons she’s doing amazing.”

The program, which helps children who are recovering from cancer and other illnesses to stay active and socialize with others who have been through similar circumstances, was the benefit of the fifth annual Bench 5K Run/Walk Saturday afternoon at the Bench Bar & Grill in Stony Brook.

About 700 participants stepped off from the bar and restaurant, ran or walked around Stony Brook Village and ended back at the establishment, where they gathered for food and drinks.

Ray McKenna, Play Fit-Stay Fit Program Director and Clinical Associate Professor of Physical Therapy at Stony Brook University, said the Bench 5K and children's fun run, which takes place at Stony Brook University, typically raises about $25,000 a year, which is enough to fund the entire program. On Monday, McKenna said he was still calculating expenses but expected that this year's run raised about $28,000.

The program currently has eight families, including the Oliva family, but has had as many as 15 at one time.

“Some of the kids are treated for 39 months,” McKenna said. “We try to get them into our program as early as possible.”

Stony Brook University students who volunteer their services are the primary workforce within the program, but it does have a part-time staff physical education trainer, Michele Russell, 27, of Sound Beach.

In her second year with the program, Russell coordinates, organizes and runs the training regiments for the children at outside facilities, such as Body and Balance in Hauppauge and World Gym in Setauket, which offer larger spaces for activities as well as swimming once a week.

“They push themselves really hard and it’s amazing to see how much they accomplish,” Russell said. “The changes I’ve seen in Adrianna, it blows my mind.”

Some of the children are undergoing treatment while the attend the program, Russell said. One of her students recently had a chemotherapy appointment on a Monday, a spinal tap that Wednesday and still showed up for the program on Friday.

“He came and still worked his butt off,” she said. “You forget that they’ve been sick but they get so much out of it because they’re having fun.”

A positive atmosphere surrounded Saturday’s run, as well. Nick Holowka, 27, of East Setauket, a graduate student at Stony Brook University, finished first in the race with a time of 16:54. Christina Zieman, 33, of Miller Place was the first female to cross the finish line at 21:25. After the race, the crowd gathered outside the Bench Bar & Grill for beer, heroes and other food donated by Bench management.

Adrianna Oliva attended the race with her Brownie troop to hand out water to the runners, but she couldn’t help think about the next time she gets to go swimming with Play Fit-Stay Fit.

“The swimming pool is the best,” she said. “I’m gonna be on the swim team.”

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