Despite the rainy weather and the fact that 17-year-old Peri Finkelstein is on life support and generally confined to a wheelchair, she went the distance last week, walking the last mile of the Chai Lifeline marathon in Miami.
With the help of her family, friends and a walker, the West Hempstead resident has participated in the Half Marathon for the past six years, and this was the farthest she had ever walked.
“She did great. It took her about 40 minutes,” said her mother, Lori Finkelstein, who walked in the event with Peri; her husband, Paul, and their other children. In fact, Peri had her own squad —Team Peri — which joined the race with her, including her physical therapist, friends, and one of her biggest fans, former New York Mets pitcher Nelson Figueroa.
Figueroa met Finkelstein eight years ago, and has helped raise money on her behalf for Chai Lifeline.
“Because of what he did, they accumulated over $281,000,” Lori said. “Nelson donates his time, he makes a lot of phone calls, does a lot of radio and newspaper interviews just to promote this fundraising effort.”
Last year, Finkelstein was the focus of a video called “A Thousand Steps” — which documented her goal to walk 1,000 steps in last year’s Half Marathon. She completed more than 1,400 steps.
Almost immediately after the marathon, she and her mother returned home, only to leave again for a two-week trip to Israel with Chai Lifeline. The organization brought 14 severely disabled children, each with one parent, and medical staff. It was the first trip to Israel for the young people, all of whom have attended Camp Simcha Special, which provides hundreds of ill or disabled children with a summer camp experience.
Finkelstein is an 11th-grader at Henry Viscardi, a special needs school in Albertson where she is a member of the National Honor Society. She attended West Hempstead public schools until the eighth grade.
“When she graduates, she will go to college, we’re not sure where, possibly Adelphi or Hofstra,” said her mother. “She’s interested in doing marketing or business or maybe becoming an attorney who does disability law or advocacy.”
Before leaving for Israel, Peri offered advice for anyone who feels challenged by a goal: “Always know that you can do the impossible, because everything’s possible.”