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SportsHigh SchoolCross Country

A much-needed return to running for young disabled Long Island athletes

Daniel Von Nostrand, 17, of Hauppauge, leads the

Daniel Von Nostrand, 17, of Hauppauge, leads the pack coming out of the second turn in the second heat of the 600-meter run at the PAL Rolling Thunder Field Day in Holtsville on Saturday. Credit: Peter Frutkoff

The isolation vanished Saturday. After months of confinement and few opportunities to interact in group settings, some of Long Island’s most socially vulnerable were doing what they love. Running.

In conjunction with the Suffolk Police Department, the Rolling Thunder held “PAL Rolling Thunder Field Day” at Holtsville’s PAL Complex Saturday morning. The Rolling Thunder is an inclusive running club designed to provide challenged individuals opportunities to compete. The pandemic hit many club members hard, as many deal with issues such as extreme anxiety. Saturday, they were back competing with friends.

“I think it’s really important because you broke a routine for these kids and that routine was running,” said Steve Cuomo, who founded the Rolling Thunder in 1998 and is the club’s head coach. “Running is a ritual, it’s repetition. They thrive on that.”

Daniel Van Nostrand felt those struggles. Van Nostrand, who runs with a carbon fiber leg after having his foot amputated as a child  because of a birth defect, had earlier qualified for the junior national Paralympics and a trial run for the Paralympic Games. But both events were canceled  by COVID-19. He said the inability to see people was difficult.

“Mentally, that was a struggle,” said Van Nostrand, 17, of Hauppauge. “Just dealing with the isolation and everything, it just created anxiety and I couldn’t take it anymore. I just wanted to go back out because that’s me. I’m a social guy, and I hate it when it’s silent.”

Saturday, he won the 1,500-meters in 5 minutes, 30.62 seconds, and was second in the 600 in 1:50.15.

“To have this rush again instead of me sitting in my room having all these thoughts in my head [is great],” Van Nostrand said. “I can actually be working on something instead of just being so down in my emotions.”

Kayla Harte, an 11-year-old from Stony Brook, was also happy to be back with friends.

“It’s my home,” Kayla said. “They help me train to be the person that I am today. It’s amazing after this pandemic to be back with everyone as a team.”

Her mother, Robyn, mentioned some of the struggles for not only her daughter, but many others during quarantine.

“Truthfully, it was really, really hard,” Robyn said. “She’s an only child with autism and the best way for her to deal with that is to be around people and be social and have those opportunities. And we didn’t have them.”

Elizabeth Licata, a 16-year-old from Bay Shore, runs eight miles a day. She has cut her time down by more than three minutes  in the last two years and ran a 6:09.38 in the 1,500 Saturday -- the top times for the girls.

“Running is also motivation,” Licata said. “It keeps you moving around and it helps me with my stress and anxiety.”

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