It is overcast when Riverhead High School arrives at Sunken Meadow State Park. Both the boys’ and girls’ cross-country teams are here to participate in the Suffolk County Coaches Invitational. The Invitational is host to over 40 different schools. It is extremely competitive and many of my 30 athletes have parents in attendance.
It’s time for the varsity boys’ race. Over 150 runners are in this race. The gun is about to go off, and I know my athletes are anxious because I have the same knot in my stomach that they do. As a coach, I know all my runners’ strengths and weaknesses. Some go out to fast, others struggle up the hills, and some need to get focused on running a consistent race. Those issues are a given. Every year, we have runners that have additional concerns, like diabetes, asthma and allergies. So, the coaches need to be prepared with orange juice, inhalers and EpiPens.
This year one of our runners suffers from a seizure disorder. The young man handles the seizure with little interruption and unless you are aware that he suffers from these moments of disconnect, you would be none the wiser. I mention this because at first, as a coach, there are reservations and concerns for this athlete. We run on trails and long distances and all I can think about is what if he has a seizure in the middle of the trail during practice?
We run in groups, and both coach Salerno and I run with our groups to ensure their safety. At times, we practice in-house where we have complete eye contact with all of our runners. At one practice, I was running along side Anthony Mammina, and he said, “I need a minute.”
We slowed to a walk and he explained that he was having a seizure. For the next seventeen minutes, he experienced what he called fireworks that were going off throughout his body. As we walked back and Anthony worked through his seizures he articulately explained his disorder and the different things his family has tried in the past to limit and/or prevent the seizures from occurring. At one time, Anthony explained, he was seizure-free for a few years and then they just returned.
His family had made a point to make me aware that they want Anthony to push himself and told us, as coaches, “We don’t want you to go easy on him.” I was already impressed with this young man and equally impressed that both his mother and father never said this is our son with a disorder. They said, “This is our son who has a disorder–make sure he works hard to your standards of practice.”
Okay, let’s get back to the race. If you have ever been to a 5k race at Sunken Meadow, you know there are about four different locations were you can see the runners and gauge their times and offer encouragement and occasionally yell, “Get up that hill.”
At the final checkpoint, all of my runners are in line to beat their Personal Record (PR) and we are looking strong. I make a point to offer encouragement to every runner, and, in the back of my mind, I feel comfort when I see Anthony Mammina coming my way because I know he’s doing just fine.
I race to the finish line so that I can see every runner coming to the line. The Blue Wave’s first runner, Anthony Galvan comes in with a time of 17:30, which is right inline with what was expected. A minute later Joe Gattuso, John Gao and Davion Porter cross the finish line.
At this time, I was actually expecting Anthony Mammina to come across the finish line before Davion. Two minutes elapse, and I begin to feel concerned. Where is Anthony — did something happen? I was glad that I had asked the line judge before the race to allow him to wear his bracelet, which explains his disorder and provides emergency information.
The next Blue Wave runner to come through is Sebastian Wnorowski. He crosses the line yelling, “He’s in stable condition, but we need an ambulance.”
I start to run on to the course to find Anthony. As I look up, I see Anthony running toward me. He is waving his arms and saying the same thing, “He’s stabilized, but we need a paramedic.”
He explains that another runner needs help. I tell the paramedics, who run to the young man on the ground. Anthony and I follow. When we arrive, the paramedics, his coach, and the boy’s father are questioning the young man as to what happened. The young man, who has dirt on his face and jersey, says, “Anthony waking me is the only thing I remember.”
Anthony explains, “I came around the corner to find the runner unconscious on the course. I made sure the area was clear and shook the young man’s shoulder and asked if he was alright.”
We learn that at first the young man was unresponsive. Then, another Blue Wave runner, Sebastian, came upon Anthony and the runner and stopped to help. Anthony lifted the young man’s arms up above his shoulders and administered an emergency inhaler, which the boy had in his mouth when Anthony found him unconscious on the ground. After the runner regained consciousness and the inhaler was administered, Anthony and Sebastian carried the young man for approximately a quarter of a mile to an area where help could be had immediately. Both Anthony and Sebastian went on to finish the race.
Sanford H. Calhoun High School Coach David Heller wrote this letter to RCSD Athletic Director Bill Groth:
“It seems (although I was not in the woods), one of my athletes–after finishing 2/3 of the race–was struggling from his asthma. Before he knew it, it was too late to take his inhaler (which he had on him) and he had fainted. At this point I could only imagine how many athletes must have run by him; however, one athlete by the name of Anthony from Riverhead High School did stop, not worried about his race–understanding the more important thing was getting this athlete help. . . .
. . . He (Anthony) ended up waking him, helping with his inhaler and getting another Riverhead athlete to help him to the proper station for first aid. For a high student, his first aid knowledge was truly amazing, and I think his act of compassion as well as his sportsmanship should not go unnoticed . . .
. . . So, Monday morning when you look at the scores from Saturday’s race and you see that Riverhead didn’t do as well as usual, know that as far as Sanford H. Calhoun is concerned Riverhead was the best team out there that day.”
Mr. Burke concludes, “I am so proud of what Anthony did and grateful that he applied his knowledge in dealing with a situation like this. His priority to help, and his ability to remain calm and appropriately administer assistance is to be commended. He represented himself, his family and the Riverhead Community in a very positive way.”
P.S.—While posing for this photo, Anthony, who is a Boy Scout and working on becoming an Eagle Scout, shared, “I am CPR certified, so I felt confident that I could help. I’m not sure what I will do in the future, but sometimes I think about becoming an EMT.”
Editor’s note: The author is the Riverhead High School boys’ cross country coach
Photo Caption: RHS Principal David Wicks with Anthony Mammina, Sebastian Wnorowski, and Boys’ Cross Country Coach Patrick Burke.
Photo courtesy of Riverhead Central School District.