By Daniel Marcillo and Remi Schott
As the grounded air cannon blasted with a deafening boom, Vincent Lombardo, an 18-year old U.S. Veteran wearing all black, dug his feet into the mud, preparing for the start of the 39th annual Veterans Day Cross Country race.
Lombardo is no taller than 5’7, but his presence was apparent as he sprinted through the American Legion Post 694 golf course carrying a 7-foot American flag on his right shoulder. The flag was the same one his squadron carried with them while deployed in Cuba.
“This is my first real veteran event since I have been back. I wanted to bring a little patriotism to the event,” Lombardo said. “It seemed to bring people together wherever I went — people were cheering me on and high-fiving me everywhere I went and giving me handshakes.”
More than 460 people participated in the race, which raised approximately $6,000 for the hospitalized and homeless veterans at the Northport VA Medical Center. Lombardo was one of the 41 U.S. military veterans who ran in the race.
“Every year we ask the hospital what they would like to use the money for and then the money is used for the veterans at the hospital,” Mary Nolte, the director of the race, said. “The money doesn’t only go to inpatients it is also used for outpatients.”
In recent years, the money raised has been used to purchase important merchandise or general use in the Post-Traumatic Stress Unit, Palliative Care, and the homeless shelter at the hospital.
“A recent purchase included specialized stands that hold tablets steady for patients in bed,” Michael Roux, the past president of the Northport Running Club, said. “The tablets allow patients to communicate with doctors and family members, as well as provide entertainment, but many are unable to hold them in place.”
More than 112,000 veterans live on Long Island, according to the latest figures from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Approximately 45,148 live in Nassau County and 66,867 live in Suffolk County. More than 100 live in shelters in Suffolk County and 10 in Nassau County, census shelter data reveals.
Over the years, the race has turned into a big community event for competitive runners and racers who are running for the veterans. The race brings people together with different backgrounds who are supporting a common cause.
“The run has continued to grow,” Terry Bisogno, the annual race emcee and one of the race promoters for the past nine years, said. “The amount of registrants through this year has been between 450 to 575. The event not only brings awareness of the services provided to the veterans but also interaction among the registrants.”
The race attracts the same friendly faces year after year, Bisogno said. Groups of people return to run in the spirit of a lost friend or family member.
This is the 5th year that Denis Kelly and his family have run the race in honor of his father, who died after serving in Vietnam and becoming exposed to Agent Orange. Every year, Kelly and his family customize bright orange shirts and have established a presence at the race as “Team Orange.”
“We are not runners so this is the one race we do because it is for a good cause. We are not out here running or breaking any records but this is the one race we do try to get everyone together for, Kelly said. “It is an amazing experience for us as a family.”