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'She empowered us all'

Glen Cove gym raises funds in trainer’s memory

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Inside Glen Cove’s Garcia Muay Thai gym, owner Anthony Garcia, 45, pushes his students to reach ever-higher levels of athleticism and fitness. Garcia said that he has a good eye for talent, and one of the most talented people he ever came across was Lisa Margaritis, of Albertson.

When she first entered Garcia’s gym in 2009, Margaritis was looking for a way to get into shape, which had been a life-long struggle for her. After two years at the gym, however, she was thriving, and her body fat had dropped to 10 percent.

But Garcia was more impressed by Margaritis’s sociability. He watched as she helped strangers, gave tips to kids and so thoroughly absorbed all of Garcia’s lessons in the Thai combat sport that she was able to replicate them for others. It wasn’t long before Garcia asked her to become a regular trainer at the gym, and Margaritis became the second face of Garcia Muay Thai.

“She always used to ask me, ‘Why did you make me a trainer?’” Garcia recalled. “It’s because she had the ability to communicate with others in a personal way. That’s something you can’t teach, so I wanted her to use that talent.”

Margaritis’s spirit always seemed invincible to Garcia, which is why he couldn’t believe that she died on Aug. 2, at age 49, in a paddleboarding incident on Mill Creek and Hashamomuck Pond in Southold. In a grief-tinged effort to preserve her legacy, Garcia created a GoFundMe page to raise $10,000 for the Church of St. Aidan, where she often volunteered.

Sub: ‘She was made to help’

On the morning of Aug. 2, Margaritis headed out to Hashamomuck Pond, along with two other women, for a paddleboard yoga class. Southold police said that as the trio made their way under a Long Island Rail Road bridge, one of the women got caught in a strong current. Margaritis, an experienced paddleboarder, paddled over to help the woman, but her own paddleboard was taken by the current, and it knocked her off into the water near the bridge piling. Because she was still tethered to the board, which was stuck on the bridge pilling, police said, Margaritis was unable to free herself.

As she struggled underwater, a passing jogger jumped into the water, freed her and brought her to shore. Southold police officers, members of the Southold Fire Department Rescue Squad and a Stony Brook Hospital paramedic responded and initiated CPR. Margaritis was transported to Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport, where she was later pronounced dead.

“I was destroyed, heartbroken, when I found out,” Garcia said. “But I know that if she could replay that scene 100 time over, she would go in to help that woman 100 times.”

He said that Margaritis would always help someone when they needed it, as evidenced in her work as a cardiac nurse at Northwell Health Hospital, in New Hyde Park. She was also an instructor at Lifetime Fitness in Garden City. Annie Rose, a student of Margaritis’s who donated to the GoFundMe page, described her as a source of inspiration who was as tough as she was kind.

“At the gym, she fiercely believed in everyone who came through the door, and empowered us all to be our best selves,” Rose wrote on the fundraising page. “I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have met her and to be the recipient of so many of her wonderful and encouraging hugs.”

Garcia added that the hugs were Margaritis’s signature move at the gym, and she offered them frequently to anyone who was struggling with something. She also led the gym’s programs for kids, which expanded to include lessons for children with disabilities.

Susan McCormack, one of Margaritis’s best friends, who met her in a kickboxing class in 2007, said that she and others wanted to honor her memory and the work she did with children. McCormack, of Glen Cove, is in the early steps of founding a nonprofit organization called Luv Like Lisa to raise money for yoga and Muay Thai classes for children with disabilities.

“She will forever be my hero, and I hope we can all learn to love like she did,” McCormack said.

Garcia added that he created the GoFundMe page in order to help Margaritis’s family cover the cost of her funeral. She is survived by her husband, Peter, and their 15-year-old son, Andrew. “But they told me they would pay for it, and that they wanted the money to go to St. Aidan’s,” Garcia said. “It’s like she’s still giving to the community. She was made to help others.”

At press time, the page had raised more than $7,500 for the St. Aidan’s Scholarship Fund. Luv Like Lisa will hold a Yoga and Boxing Under the Starts event at Lifetime Fitness, in Garden City, on Aug. 22.