Peri Finkelstein, 17, was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at four months old, but continues to diligently train with her gait trainer five days a week. Photo: Courtesy of Team Peri
No matter your age or physical ability, running a marathon is hard. And that challenge, the idea of doing something she was told she could never do, is what drives Peri Finkelstein, a 17-year old from West Hempstead, New York. Finkelstein, an eleventh grader, is in the National Honor Society and likes to bake, read, watch cooking shows and dream about where she’ll go to college and graduate school. She also has muscular dystrophy.
When she was just four months old, Peri’s parents, Lori and Paul, were told their daughter’s condition was “hopeless and that physical therapy was pointless.” Peri has been on a ventilator since she was two. Yet she walks, and others in her family run. Seeing what her parents and older siblings could do is what inspired Peri to participate in the Miami Marathon.
“Tell someone that they can’t do anything and what do you think happens? They go ahead and prove you wrong,” says the 51-year old mother, Lori, of her youngest’s desire to participate in a marathon.
In 2015, Peri was pushed along the course in a jogging stroller, stopping just before the finish so she could walk across the line. Her goal for 2016 was to walk 1,000 steps. She ended up walking more than 1,400 steps to cross the finish line. This year, Peri and her family are returning to Miami once again for the Miami Marathon and Half Marathon on Jan. 29, where she plans to walk the final mile of the race.
The entire Finkelstein family, including brother Joel and sister Katy, runs with Team Lifeline. Team Lifeline, a fundraising-through-sport division of Chai Lifeline, raises money to support the nonprofit, which provides services to children with life threatening medical conditions and to children fighting cancer. So far, Team Peri has raised more than $150,000 for Team Lifeline via the 2017 Miami Marathon. The family, who fell in love with Miami and the event after their first race, return annually with more family and friends in tow every year.
According to her mom, Peri wants to give back to Chai Lifeline, an organization that’s truly been their lifeline since Peri was a baby. “She is determined to make a difference in this world and determined to help out as many children as she can by supporting CLL and bringing awareness of what they do and how they make the lives of the children, siblings and parents so much better,” Lori adds.
This past summer Peri had an internship with Team Lifeline. She wrote runner spotlights for social media and was also responsible for getting a celebrity involved in the program. Several years ago, Peri connected with former New York Mets pitcher Nelson Figueroa when she gave him a bracelet at a Mets game. She reached out again. Figueroa is now accompanying the Finkelstein family and Team Lifeline to Miami. He plans to run the half marathon and will be there to cheer on Team Peri for the teenager’s 1-mile walk.
Peri does physical therapy three times a week at home while using a ventilator. Photo: Courtesy of Team Peri
To prepare for the challenge, Peri walks in her gait trainer five days a week. She has physical therapy three times a week at home and additional sessions at school when it works with her schedule. She also lifts leg weights. Peri doesn’t have the energy to both train and wean herself off of her ventilator. She recently announced to her caregivers that walking was more important to her than increasing spans of unassisted breathing, so that is her focus.
For the 2017 Miami Marathon “Team Peri” will include Peri’s mom Lori, her physical therapist, her counselor from Camp Simcha (which is run by Chai Lifeline), a cousin, and several family friends, including Figueroa. Her race kit includes a Team Lifeline jersey and headband, New Balance shoes, Team Peri bracelets, and a blue and yellow tutu.
If you happen to see Peri making her way through Miami, cheer for her all you want, but please don’t tell her she’s a hero. While her mom realizes she is a source of inspiration to many, she says her daughter wants to be seen as a person “just like you and me” who likes to push herself. She just happens to be in a wheelchair and on ventilation for life support.
“My job is to help her maximize her potential in life, and make sure she has the skills to do that for herself as she gets older,” Lori Finkelstein says of her daughter. “She has the drive, the determination and the bravery. She just needs the physical help to get there.”