Running toward their dreams

Church sponsors Guatemalan brothers who take first and second place in half-marathon


Dreams really do come true. Just ask Guatemalan brothers Erick and Wilson Chavez Chox, who came to the U.S. on April 23 from their rural Central American town of Santa Lucia Utatlan to run in last Sunday’s Long Island Half Marathon — and were the top two finishers.

“That is my dream,” the Spanish-speaking Erick said through his interpreter and mentor, Rich LaRossa, two days before the race. “To win first place.”

The 13.1-mile race began on Charles Lindbergh Boulevard, in Uniondale, and finished in Eisenhower Park, in East Meadow. Erick, 25, hit the finish line in 1 hour, 12 minutes, 20 seconds, and Wilson, 23, was just over a minute behind him, finishing in 1:13:23. The third-place winner was Matt Hassett, 25, of North Bellmore.

“I was numb,” LaRossa said after the race. “I was having trouble processing all this … I didn’t realize they were so good.” When he asked the brothers how they felt afterward, they said they were both “just giving thanks to God.”

LaRossa, a deacon at St. Raymond’s Roman Catholic Church in East Rockaway, was instrumental in making this all happen. He began traveling to Central America in 1992, a year after being ordained at the church. His first trip was to Nicaragua, and he visited Guatemala the following year.

In the summer of 1998, parishioners from St Raymond’s went with him to Guatemala, and that September the church started the Sister Parish Project, teaming up with Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. John the Baptist parishes in Guatemala to support children there. Since the project began with one child in 2002, it has grown. St. Raymond’s now supports 200 Guatemalan children with monthly stipends.

The children must stay in school and pass their classes to remain in the program. “Each child is linked to a St. Ray family,” explained LaRossa, who has traveled to Guatemala twice a year for the past 20 years. In January he usually goes by himself, but each June he is joined by about 20 parishioners — and, LaRossa added, there is a waiting list for those trips. “But families can write letters, and they get letters back from the child that they sponsor,” he said. “Parishioners also help with school expenses and food and medical expenses — for $20 a month.”

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