Eye on the Ball: Shelter Island’s Marathon Man

COURTESY PHOTO Dr. Frank and son Liam in the New York City half-marathon last spring.

Dr. Frank and son Liam in the New York City half-marathon last spring.

Do you know someone who has run 33 New York City Marathons and six Boston Marathons? How about someone who has done a “golf marathon” by walking 117 holes in one day with three of his buddies?

If you’re an Islander, the answer is yes, you probably do know this Island marathon man, a physician who accomplished these feats in his spare time.

The challenge of “Eye on the Ball” is to write about Islanders and their relation to sports, and this week, I’ve found the ideal combination — Dr. Frank Adipietro.

Dr. Frank — director of anesthesia and interventional pain management at Eastern Long Island Hospital — is one of the most in-demand people you’ll ever meet. If you question that, try getting an appointment without knowing someone. If you’re involved with anything on Shelter Island, you know he is the voice of both the 5K and 10K, as well as the race’s medical director and radio show host each June when he interviews 10K racers. You also should know that in the summer, he is the voice of our local baseball team, the Shelter Island Bucks, announcing all home games.

He has served as president of the Lions Club and is vice chairman of the ELIH board. For eight years, Dr. Frank was president of the Island Gift of Life Foundation. He and his wife Mary Ellen were voted Citizens of the Year in 2006 by the Lions Club for their involvement in the community. The hospital honored him the best way they know how — by naming a wing of the hospital after him.

Our little Island was given a gift back in 1985 when he and Mary Ellen came to run the 10K together. At that time, they fell in love with the Island and the following year, they rented a house in Silver Beach. A few years later, they bought a house on Big Ram.

Dr. Frank is a Brooklyn boy who attended Catholic schools: Saint Anselm’s and Xavarian High School. In 1979, he graduated from New York University summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a Bachelor of Science degree. He then attended SUNY Downstate Medical Center. After his residency, he received a fellowship in open heart anesthesia and pain medicine at Harvard.

As a young man, Dr. Frank played tennis, baseball, football, racquetball and golf, though running has always been his greatest love. That’s probably due to his father’s influence. Yes, his father. In 1981, at age 41, his father decided to give up smoking and asked his son if he would like to run the New York City Marathon with him. Frank said yes, taking it as a challenge to exercise and lose weight.

Dr. Frank said finishing that marathon with his father was one of the most exciting things in his life. He puts it right up there with the excitement of watching Mary Ellen finish 15 marathons and their son Liam as the starting pitcher in four All-Star games. Frank’s dad passed away in 2003, while still a young man of 63. Dr. Frank says he still gets chills standing at the toll booth of the  Verrazano Bridge just before one of the world’s greatest races.

His mom is still alive, doing well and living in Nassau County. Frank is the oldest of four children. His sister, Debbie, is a teacher with three very athletic sons, and sister Lori is married and working as a librarian. He also spoke proudly of his younger brother, Joseph, who has a degree in business from the University of Chicago and is now married with two young boys.

As a boy he had his idols. New York Mets pitcher Tom Seaver and marathon runner Bill Rodgers were two of his most revered. I guess today when Bill Rodgers comes to the Island for the 10K race, and Dr. Frank gets to spend some time with him, it must be a thrill that few of us will ever know.

I have to admit that I always felt that someday, when I made a lot of money, the real gifts of life would be open to me. Now, at my age, I’m finally certain that it’s the simple things that gave me the greatest joy, just as Dr. Frank finds great joy in coaching his son’s Little League team.

He’s also found great pleasure in his wife’s accomplishments — running 15 marathons, working for 12 years as 10K race director and founder of the 5K, which had over 600 registrants this year. He talks proudly of his son Liam’s multi-sport accomplishments as a baseball pitcher, playing AAU basketball, and as a member of the  cross-country, golf and Mattituck travel soccer teams.

His highlight this year? Mary Ellen convincing the reigning Boston Marathon winner, Meb Keflezighi, to compete in the Shelter Island 10K.

Dr. Frank feels that involvement in sports at any age will improve one’s quality of life. Sports mentors and devoted, caring coaches make a difference in young people’s lives. He gave high praise to Toby Green, Bryan Gallagher and Bryan Knipfing for exhibiting these qualities. He feels with his background in running, he can easily say our young runners are exposed to the best Shelter Island has to offer.

At last week’s New York City Marathon, Dr. Frank and 13 other 30-plus marathoners were honored as part of the opening ceremonies of the race. Dr. Frank carried the flag from the New York Athletic Club.

When I asked him for something funny that happened in sports he immediately talked about the Bucks game this past summer when the person who was supposed to sing the National Anthem did not show up. Father Peter suggested he download the copy of Robert Merrill singing the anthem at Yankee Stadium. He did, and when everyone stood up, he turned the volume up and pressed “play.” Out came “Disco Inferno” from “Saturday Night Fever.”

Finally, what will stay with me forever was our “marathon golf” day. We recruited four players including Dr. Frank, Jay Card, Gary Blados and Barry Walz to see how many holes they could play in one day. The rules were straightforward: They had to walk the entire way and put every ball in the cup.

People would donate $1 per hole for every hole they could walk and play after 36 holes. To the amazement of all, these four troopers walked and played 117 holes of golf (six and a half rounds) in one day. We raised over $13,000 for our junior golf program from four guys who just didn’t know how to say “I quit.”