Written by Christy Hinko Friday, 16 December 2011 00:00On Saturday, Dec. 17 Ashley Tonno, 27, an Island Trees High School graduate, will hold a charity fundraiser at R.C. Dugan’s in East Meadow to benefit Team in Training (TNT) for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), honoring her father, Nick Tonno.
Many people know Nick as “Big Nick,” the driving force behind the newly formed Island Trees Alumni Football Association. He and his wife, Linda are high school sweethearts, also graduates of Island Trees High School.
In 2004 Nick was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma; Ashley was away at college in Connecticut, her sophomore year, when they received the news. She completed her school year and returned home, enrolling in Adelphi University in Garden City, to be near her father and family while they made sense of the concerning news. Ashley was confident that her father would be OK because she said, “As a family we were going to fight and do all we can do to make sure he gets better.”
She began researching the disease, determined to help her father find a cure. She made a connection with the LLS Long Island Chapter and participated in her first “Light the Night” walk, rallying 30 of her friends to form the “Team Tonno.”
“My daughter Ashley has set her goals and usually sets the bar very high,” Nick said as he recalled being overwhelmed by the response of her charity attempt, but that was only the beginning.
Seven years later, Ashley has participated in dozens of 5K and 1-mile races; she’s organized fundraisers and events all to help find a cure for her father and all who are suffering from blood cancers.
She explained that her benefits for TNT go beyond the needs of her father, but of many others who she knows who are affected by “not just blood cancers, but cancer itself.” Ashley said two very important people in her life as well, Tina Bodkin and Ronald Peter Mare, Sr., of Levittown, are also affected. “These are people who I care about and that are close to my heart; I know my close friends and family know others who need assistance.”
She explained that LLS assists families, helping them understand what its like to have a loved one battling cancer; they provide more than just support groups but they provide their patients with a safe place to go and talk about what they are going through. “It is also very important to me because I know there are children out there faced with blood cancers and it breaks my heart to think they can’t have what a child without cancer has,” she said.
Ashley said that being a part of TNT gave her all the reasons to know she’s making a difference. “Seeing new faces every Saturday through each new season makes me know I am making a difference; speaking to my father and Tina Bodkin every day gives me the satisfaction that I am making a difference,” she said.
Every Saturday morning she meets with the other members of the chapter’s TNT. She is comforted by being surrounded by survivors, cancer patients in all stages of treatment, parents of children affected, and “selfless people that have no relation to the cause but want to make a difference.”
She regularly encourages friends and family to support the cause, to join TNT although “they joke with me and call it my ‘purple friend cult’,” said Ashley. “TNT has also changed my life drastically as well mentally, physically and emotionally; my friends are my support system through the aches and the pains from running.”
Since she began with TNT, Ashley has raised over $8,000 for LLS with the help of friends and family. She said, “I am not stopping there and won’t until there is a cure.” She will travel to Disney World in Orlando in January to participate as part of TNT to run her third half marathon in the last three months.
“Ashley is my daughter, my friend and a child anyone would want in their corner when they’re battling a disease like mine; she’s a champion, her determination gives me strength and determination in fighting this disease,” said Ashley’s father, Nick. “When Ashley received the Terrific Kid award in Sparke Elementary School from the Kiwanis Club 16 years ago they saw then what I’ve seen my whole life a ‘Terrific Kid.’” Nick knows his daughter is persistent and will not stop until a cure can be found.
R.C. Dugan’s is located at 2314 Hempstead Turnpike in East Meadow. The fundraiser, on Saturday, Dec. 17 will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. The suggested donation is $40 per person and includes an open bar and buffet. Raffles will also be available. Call (516) 477-1892 for more information or visit Ashley’s Team in Training website to make a donation: http://pages.teamintraining.org/li/wdw12/atonnovvaf.