Virginia Mones remembers the first time her daughter ran in a track meet.
It was a 60-meter run, and Erica, who has cerebral palsy and was 5 years old, was “just this little thing,” she said. But adding to that, Erica just had casts removed from both her legs after surgery six weeks prior and used a walker to support herself.
“She was falling the whole way,” Mones said with a smile on her face. “But she finished it and she was so proud.”
That was Erica’s first year competing with the Long Island Storm, a team of physically disabled children that competes in the Empire State Games for the Physically Challenged. Erica was invited to join the team through her preschool, the St. Charles Education and Therapeutic Center in Port Jefferson, which has since closed.
The games, which have been held at Mitchel Athletic Complex and Nassau Community College for the past 26 years, is an athletic competition for people with physical disabilities. Up to 1,100 athletes between the ages of 5 and 21 participate each year in track, field, slalom, swimming, wheelchair basketball and table tennis.
This year, when New York state cut the games from its budget, Nassau County and the nonprofit fundraising committee Save the Games took over the responsibility, and the renamed Nassau County Empire State Games for the Physically Challenged will take place from June 2 to June 4.
“Ecstatic” by the news that the games had been saved, Erica wanted to show her appreciation by raising some money herself.
She decided to support one of her passions with another - writing poetry.
“I’ve been writing ever since I was able to,” she said, adding that she especially likes poetry because of the way that it flows.
She put together a book of her poems, which also includes a memoir about her first race, and sold it for $3 to family and friends, raising $160.
Erica sent the money and a copy of the book to Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano. Virginia Mones said a representative from Mangano’s office called Erica shortly after to thank her for her book and her dedication, and on Friday, they called again to tell Erica that Mangano would like to honor her with a special citation.
“They were happy about it,” Erica said.
Erica said she’s preparing for the games by running every day, and her track coach, Josh Carlock, called her a “tough athlete” that “overcomes any obstacle in her way.”
“And she always does it with her smile,” he said. “We need more people like Erica.”
Virginia Mones said she was proud of her daughter but hardly surprised.
“Erica knows what she likes and what helps other people,” she said. “And she wants to help people.”