Disability does not slow her down

With strong voice and will, Roman creates lasting legacy as fan of children

Well-known, respected Waldo County YMCA employee supports Belfast-area children
By Mark Haskell | Apr 12, 2019
Photo by: Mark Haskel Sandi Roman near her office at the Waldo County YMCA.

Belfast — When Sandi Roman was 10 years old, she had a conversation with her mother, Miguelina, about legacy.

“I remember having a conversation with my mother and saying to her, “I wish I could do something important with my life,’” said Roman. “And she said, ‘Like what?’ And I said I don’t know, but I feel like if I would have died tomorrow, nobody would even know me.”

“I want to make a difference somehow. But I don’t know how.”

The now 60-year-old Roman, who is the teen director at the Waldo County YMCA, has woven her undoubtedly pink fabric throughout Waldo County the past decade.

Her DNA is all over youth sports be it through various activities at the YMCA, or down the street at Walsh Field where her voice has become legendary calling Little League games. She also attends many high school and middle school athletic events as one of the Lions' most staunch supporters.

Roman has made a difference — and a life — in Belfast. And in a life filled with tough decisions, she called the one to move to Belfast the best one she ever made.

“It just seemed like such a wonderful place to raise my boys," she said.

Originally Sandi Francis from Bronx, N.Y., Roman is a 1977 Monsignor Scanlan High School graduate where she excelled in theater and the drama club. After high school, she continued that route and even acted in well-known daytime soap operas such as Guiding Light and All My Children.

And while sports would later become a significant part of her life, that was not the case at Monsignor Scanlan.

“I was terrible [at sports],” she said. “I did track. I tried out for softball but I couldn’t catch, couldn’t throw, couldn’t hit. But I could run, so they pushed me over to doing track,” where she was a sprinter, hurdler and relay runner.

Meeting adversity head-on

Then life, as it sometimes does, threw Roman an off-speed pitch during her senior year.

“They were offering influenza shots to prevent the flu,” she said. “And I remember coming home from school with a slip for my parents to sign giving them permission for me to have the shot.”

Her parents declined the shot, and she eventually contracted swine flu.

By result, she became paralyzed from the waist down.

“And on top of that I also had spinal meningitis and was in the hospital for quite a while,” she said. “It basically left my lower extremities [paralyzed] and damaged a lot of the nerves in my legs. So I don’t have a lot of feeling in my legs.”

She was unable to graduate with her high school class because she was still recuperating in the hospital, but finished high school as she had already finished most of her required courses before she took ill.

“I did get my diploma, and after that I enrolled at NYU,” she said.

During her time at New York University, Roman did not let her now numerous day-to-day challenges define her. In fact, they helped her find her way.

“I definitely wanted to go away to college,” she said. “It would have been so easy for me to stay at home living with my parents, which is what they wanted me to do. Being newly disabled and being a female, they were super worried. But I just didn’t want to depend on anyone. My thing was God forbid something were to happen to my parents, I wouldn’t know what to do.”

“I went and got my own apartment, I lived alone, I went to work, I went to school, I got my degree,” she said. “I did everything that everybody else does. I do it a little differently or maybe it takes me a little longer, but it doesn’t matter how you get it done as long as you can get it done.”

She also met her soon-to-be husband, John. The two wed in 1995, but not before Roman, after a great deal of work, was able to toss her crutches aside for the most important walk of her life.

“I wanted to be able to walk down the aisle without my crutches,” she said. “I just wanted to be able to walk.”

Roman’s independence and her propensity for hard work — and, perhaps a little luck — allowed her to find more work Off-Broadway and on television and modeling, despite her lower-body paralysis.

“I ended up meeting a Jesuit brother who used to run a theater school that trained disabled adults in theater,” she said. “So that way when a role presented itself for someone that was disabled, we could go up for the part. But it wasn’t enough to just be disabled, you had to have talent to back it up with.”

“Back in 1977 the only disabled performers that I was every privy to was someone like Steve Wonder or Jose Feliciano. And they were both blind musicians. I never saw a disabled actor, and if I did, it was an able-bodied person playing the role of a disabled person.”

“Then I ended up teaching to disabled and able-bodied kids. And that’s what actually brought me up to Belfast.”

Shipping up to Belfast

That same Jesuit Brother, Rick Curry, who founded the National Theater Workshop of the Handicapped in New York City in 1977, opened a branch in Belfast in 1997 the latter of which would take up space at the former Crosby School.

Curry tabbed Roman to be one of the new venue’s teachers.

Taking a girl out of the “Boogie-Down Bronx” and plopping her down in the Pine Tree State — particularly in more rural Waldo County — may have been a hard sell to some.

Not Roman. “I just fell in love with Belfast,” she said.

“I lived in Manhattan in a one-bedroom apartment, $1,650 a month for rent [and] I had to pay for parking,” she said. “You couldn’t park in the street because of all the vandalism. And that was $250 a month for indoor parking. And then to work I needed daycare and that was $650 for daycare. It was ridiculous. We just couldn’t afford it. And I came up here and people had houses and property that they owned and just under $1,000 for a mortgage.”

“I remember my parents in the Bronx had to put bars on their windows to keep the vandals out,” she said. “And I remember my son one day we went to my parents and he’s looking out the window and holding onto these bars and he says, ‘Mommy is this what it’s like to be in jail?’ And I was like, ‘You know what? This is crazy. This is not what I want for my kids.’ "

And, just like that, the Romans' took their talents north in the spring of 2000.

The Belfast-based school fell on hard economic times and never recovered, but Roman stayed and eventually began work at the Waldo County YMCA in 2008, where she is now the teen director.

Roman organizes after-school activities and games for children in middle school and high school.

“They shoot hoops, when it’s nice we got out in the field and I try to organize one big activity every afternoon whether it’s dodgeball, kickball or floor hockey. To keep them occupied and hopefully keep them out of trouble," she said.

Voice of Walsh Field

Roman said, as her boys Zavier and Zander got older, their neighbors got them interested in Wiffleball.

And, when those interests shifted to baseball, they joined the youth baseball league.

“One day they wanted someone to say the Little League pledge and do the [national] anthem,” she said. “And I just volunteered. Then they asked me if I could announce the kids and that’s how it got started.”

Scott Cournoyer, who was the Cal Ripken League president from 2014-2017, said Roman "cares so much about all the children in this community" and is, unquestionably, "the voice of Walsh baseball field."

Then, she began giving the players nicknames. Such as Levi “Lightning” Lapham, Stan “Twinkle Toes” Sturgis and Ian “The Abominable” Snowdeal, just to name a few.

“That blew up like you would not believe,” she said. “Kids wanted to join the Little League just so I’d give them a nickname.”

Roman’s prowess as a Little League announcer is unparalleled. She rolls her R’s when announcing the lineups, batters and positional changes and does so with with an unmistakable flair and bravado.

"When our league hosted the U10 district tournament in 2016 and the U12 district tournament in 2017, I received rave reviews from visiting coaches, players and especially the parents," said Cournoyer. "They marveled at the atmosphere and said it created memories for them and their kids. One visiting parent said, 'My boy told me, he never thought he would ever hear his name announced while coming up to bat. He said he felt like a Major League Baseball player.'"

With Roman's physical condition, it can be difficult to climb up the stairs above the snack shack, settle into the best seats in the house and announce the day’s games.

But she would not have it any other way.

“I got to know the kids, and they got to know me,” she said. “And I like to support them.”

Roman said she has children she used to babysit — that are now in college — still keeping in touch with her on their day-to-day lives.

“I had no idea the impact they would have on me,” she said. “And I on them.”

She also has been known to do starting lineups and the national anthem at home varsity basketball games in the winter, but it is at Walsh Field where her reputation precedes her.

Where there's a will, there's a way

Over the past year, Roman’s health has “had a setback.” She has a torn meniscus and is in need of a knee replacement.

“I have a lot of cartilage damage,” she said. “But because I have malignant high blood pressure, I can’t get any kind of surgery until I get my pressure under control.”

This has put the wheels in motion, so to speak, for Roman to now get around via a motorized scooter. She said the scooter has helped her regain her independence.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” she said. “I haven’t missed a beat, I continue to work. I thought it would be an issue here at the Y, but it wasn’t. They didn’t make any big deal about it. I just have to find a way to continue to be independent. That’s super important to me, because I’ve always been that way.”

She said, despite her love for calling games, she has not committed to calling games this season due to her torn meniscus likely to make it difficult for her get up the stairs above the snack shack to the PA booth.

“If there was some way that I could call games without having to go up there, I would absolutely,” she said. “I love doing that stuff. It keeps me involved with sports and I love seeing the kids play their hearts out.," she said.

Pinkalicious

Roman is known by a more famous monicker among those who know her best: Pinkalicious.

“My sister and I were close in age,” she said. “And people used to think we were twins. My mother would dress her in either yellow or blue and I was always in yellow or pink. And I just gravitated to the color pink.”

“There’s a book called Pinkalicious and it’s about a little girl who’s always all in pink. And I had no idea. And one of the mothers that I’d babysit for brought the book in for me. And she said, ‘We want to call you pinkalicious.’ And I said ‘OK that works for me.’ ”

The name stuck, so much so that she was gifted a baseball shirt at the end of one of her Little League seasons with it emblazoned across her back.

Now, she has her own shirts with the name monogrammed on them, with 10 as the jersey number, which was always Zavier’s number from youth leagues up to college.

At 18 years old, many would see the cards Roman was dealt as a sentence being passed, or an expiration date being stamped on a life that had not even begun to be led.

Roman, saw her circumstances as an opportunity to shine.

"And I honestly believe me taking this path, being disabled, has led me down this path of making change and making a difference. Having an impact on people’s lives and having them return the impact on my life. I’ve learned a lot and it’s made me a stronger person.”

“I have a voice now. And I make sure people hear me if I have something to say.”

Sandi Roman as a young woman in New York City. (Courtesy of: Sandi Roman)
Sandi Roman. (Photo by: Mark Haskell)
Sandi Roman. (Photo by: Mark Haskell)
Sandi Roman. (Photo by: Mark Haskell)
Sandi Roman. (Photo by: Mark Haskell)
Sandi Roman. (Photo by: Mark Haskell)
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