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Thursday, Mar 22, 2018
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Lightning’s Callahan has centenarian ‘Gram’ who’s a huge fan

The Tampa Bay Lightning have legions of rabid followers, but none quite like Adriana Giancursio, a true fan of the century. She’s 100 years young.

She was born before the National Hockey League was founded. God willing, in January she will witness the 18th different president of her lifetime enter the White House.

She has experienced the invention of Coca-Cola and the end of Prohibition, the rise of silent films and the growth of YouTube, wide-open horseback trails through town and congested interstate highways, two world wars and the Great Depression.

“I have seen a lot,” said Giancursio, who feels great, speaks clearly and is quick to laugh.

One thing she still longs to see: her grandson, Lightning forward Ryan Callahan, raising the Stanley Cup.

“Oh my, if that happened, you know what? I think I’d drink for a long time,” said Giancursio, who will watch tonight from her suburban Rochester, New York, apartment when the Lightning open the NHL playoffs against the Detroit Red Wings.

“My Gram is something else,” Callahan said. “We’re so lucky to have her this long. She’s still going strong. She’ll call and yell at me when I’m injured. She’ll tell me to be tough.”

And why not? After all, Giancursio beat breast cancer — 41 years ago. At age 96, she suffered a devastating lower-body injury — a broken left hip during a fall while hanging up clothes — but refused to give in. She rehabilitated furiously and demanded to go home.

“I can’t dance like I used to,” she said. “Other than that, I’m fine.”

Last season, Giancursio accompanied Callahan’s parents to Buffalo, where they took in a Sabres-Lightning game. During dinner at a steakhouse, Lightning coach Jon Cooper dropped by their table to exchange pleasantries.

Giancursio’s greeting:

“I don’t think you’re using Ryan right. He needs more ice time.”

Cooper just grinned.

“No doubt about it, she’s spunky,” said Callahan’s mother, Donna, who is Giancursio’s daughter. “I think you have to be really strong and spunky to live that long.”

What’s her secret?

“I had a wonderful marriage,” said Giancursio, whose husband died 31 years ago of pancreatic cancer. “We had lovely children. I was very careful what I ate. I have a glass of red wine with my supper.

“And I’ve always had something to look forward to. I love life and love people. I’ve surrounded myself with family and friends. I’m busy, always doing something, reading, talking. But when Ryan’s hockey game comes on, I stop and watch. Don’t bother me then. I really, really get excited.”

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No doubt, Giancursio has led an exciting life.

She was born Jan. 19, 1916, in Italy, outside of Milan, “just below one of the Alps.” From her house, she could throw a rock and hit ground in Switzerland.

When the war broke out, her father, who had dual citizenship, headed back to the United States and joined the Army. Giancursio, age 3, and her mother followed on a long, tortuous journey across the Atlantic Ocean, checking through at Ellis Island, New York, and heading to Illinois.

The family moved to Massachusetts for a time, then settled in Rochester.

Giancursio learned to cook from her mother, making risotto Milanese that still makes Callahan swoon, a special sauce that had the entire neighborhood tracking its scent and a chicken-and-rice dish that long has been a family favorite.

Every summer, Giancursio’s father sent her back to Italy so she could maintain her heritage. On one trip there was a stop at Gibraltar. She walked out on the stone.

“It’s something I did in my life that I won’t forget: I was actually on the Rock of Gibraltar,” she said.

Back in the United States she became a hairdresser, then a buyer for a department store. One night after a particularly rigorous time at work, she was coaxed to a party by friends.

Three different men asked her to dance, and she refused. Then she was approached by Dominic Giancursio, handsome and dashing, who wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“I went home and told my mother, ‘I think I met the man I’d like to marry,’ ” Giancursio said. “I was 21. A year and a half later, we were married. There was something about him, a charisma.

“I tell people, ‘Someday, you’ll meet someone and you’ll just know. Until then, don’t get married.’ ”

They raised two daughters, Adriana and Donna, in Rochester. While decorating the Christmas tree one winter, Giancursio heard that a charming young gentleman was pursuing her youngest daughter, who was resisting.

“Oh, Donna, give the guy a break. Go out with him,” she said.

In two weeks, Donna and Michael Callahan will celebrate their 39th wedding anniversary.

“My mom always knows the right thing to do or the right thing to say,” Donna Callahan said. “In times of crisis, she’s so strong.”

A few years ago, Donna Callahan nearly died because of an intestinal blockage that forced the removal of her colon. Callahan, then playing for the New York Rangers, and his pregnant wife hurried across the state to her hospital. Somehow, Donna pulled through.

“My mom is a fighter, so I became a fighter, too,” Donna said. “She truly has been my inspiration.”

“Gram inspires us all,” Ryan Callahan said.

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There are so many happy memories.

Callahan called her “Grandma McDonald’s” because she took him and his older brother to get hamburgers whenever they wanted. As a child he played “knee hockey” with her, and she always defended the stairway goal so the puck wouldn’t get lost.

Giancursio dotes on her five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren — a ninth is expected in July. She especially has enjoyed following the hockey exploits of Ryan and his older brother, Michael, who played collegiately at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

She attended almost every game in youth leagues and juniors, usually dressing as though she was headed to the Arctic.

She’s still at all of Ryan’s games — in spirit. She calls almost daily to make sure she has the right channel for Lightning hockey. She usually prays the rosary during pregame, then has some friends over to watch.

Giancursio’s son-in-law said she sometimes calls and asks, “Why can’t they get into the offensive zone? What’s wrong with that goalie?”

But such chitchat is only allowed during the intermissions.

“I have some younger friends here who take me shopping, and we talk all the time,” said Giancursio, who lives alone in her apartment, about 45 minutes away from her daughter. “They like to watch the games with me.”

“Yes, younger friends. ... They’re in their 80s,” Donna Callahan said with a laugh.

Giancursio cringes when there’s a fight. When Callahan scores, she immediately calls her daughter, if Donna hasn’t called first. Around town, Giancursio wears her Lightning jacket. She also has a No. 24 Callahan jersey.

“She’ll see someone in a store for the first time and she’ll say, ‘Do you know anything about hockey? You know, my grandson is a hockey star for the Lightning. In fact, this is his mother,’ and I’ll just have my head down,” Donna Callahan said. “One thing for sure, she’s a proud, proud grandmother.”

Another thing for sure: Ryan Callahan is a proud, proud grandson.

“Gram has had a huge influence on me,” he said. “I look up to her. She’s an amazing woman.”

Sometimes during television interviews, Callahan will close with, “Hi, Gram!”

Giancursio’s phone will ring nonstop.

“Did you hear that?” her friends will say.

Oh, she heard it, all right.

“That just makes my heart go,” she said.

Giancursio said she’s amazed to be 100 years old. It was never a goal, never an expectation, although her mother lived to age 94 and a paternal grandfather reached 92.

“If I could stay the way I am right now, with this kind of life, I’d like to live another 100 years,” she said.

“No matter how old you are, you’ve got to take an interest in life. Sometimes I’ll get up in the morning, water my plants, get my coffee and look at my pictures. I’ll say to myself, ‘Adriana, you are a fortunate person. Look at those beautiful children.’ They all came from me.”

Including Ryan Callahan, No. 24, her favorite Lightning player. It doesn’t take much for Giancursio to feel like a little girl again.

“When he scores, I scream and wake up the dead,” she said. “It’s like I’m on top of the world.”

[email protected]

Twitter: @JJohnstonTBO

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Lightning’s Callahan has centenarian ‘Gram’ who’s a huge fan