Nick Cammarata would have appreciated the community gathering at Clifton Common on Sunday afternoon.
Kids played games at a small carnival, tossing soccer balls into a target and launching rubber chickens into a chef’s pot. Hundreds of runners worked on stretches and strides, and accelerated in a variety of races. Pizza, macaroni and cheese, chocolate chip cookies and chicken tenders — fuel foods for teenagers — all were on sale.
“He would have loved this,” said Nick’s mother, Janine Cammarata. “He loved kids, he wanted to be a technology teacher and he was working on being a lifeguard and teaching. He would have been the first one to be doing all this.”
Nick Cammarata fought leukemia in 2008. He was 13 years old when he died on Oct. 26 that year.
Janine Cammarata has kept her son’s memory alive as president and co-founder of the Nick’s Fight to be Healed Foundation, which supports pediatric cancer patients and also helps young adults dealing with the disease. The “Nick’s Run to be Healed” race has been held annually since 2009.
“We usually have over 1,000 people attending,” Cammarata said, adding that people like the chance to exercise and to help a good cause at the same time.
“They know it’s a good run,” Cammarata added. “They like the course, there’s something for the whole family. You have the different events where everyone can compete but there’s also that community feeling. We have 21 teams; most of them are families with kids with cancer. So you come together, you have that emotional support.”
Cammarata said the foundation raised about $50,000 on Sunday, money from runner and walker registrations (people paid between $5 and $30), food sales, carnival games, shirt and sweatshirt sales, and sponsorships.
“All of our money stays local, and people like that,” Cammarata said. “And when I can say, ‘You know what? I just turned on a family’s heat because they ran out of fuel oil, I just paid the company,’ that’s a direct and immediate impact. That’s what’s so powerful about the organization, I think.”
The main event, a 5-kilometer race that went off at 1 p.m., put 233 runners on Clifton Common roads. A total of 292 registered.
Melissa Brown, 45, of Clifton Park, ran for both the Cammarata family and her own family. Her mother, Isabel Marullo, died of cancer three years ago. “I run for her,” she said. “I always run for her.”
Sean Knapp, 37, of Clifton Park, liked the idea his registration dollars were used for a good cause.
“I rarely do organized runs,” he said. “I’ll do this one. It helps people.”
“You see who you’re supporting,” said Danielle Knapp, 34, who was running with her husband. “I like that.”
Michael Symans, 53, of Clifton Park, ran with his twin 13-year-old daughters, Emily and Megan.
“I’m glad the whole community comes together and does something that’s healthy,” Symans said. “They add all the different activities for young people. It becomes a community event, not just a race.”
Young people helped plan the events. Sarah Collins, 17, and Jack Murphy, 16, both members of Nick’s Round Table — a teen advisory group for the foundation — helped put together the carnival.
“You don’t feel anything until you meet the kids who are going through it,” said Murphy, a sophomore at Christian Brothers Academy in Colonie. “They’re fighters. That’s inspiring.”
“It’s such an awesome way to give back,” said Collins, 17, a senior at Shenendehowa High School, president of the group.
Sunday’s race honored Menands’ Ali Bawla, 7, who was diagnosed with leukemia in May 2017. He will undergo treatment until May 2020.
Two hundred friends and relatives of the Bawla family — many traveling to Clifton Park from homes in Long Island — were at Clifton Common. Many wore blue, orange and white T-shirts with an “Ali Strong” message.
“You know the saying, ‘It takes a village,'” said Nusair Bawla, 44, Ali’s father. “I feel my son is being raised by the village. He’s being raised in a cocoon, but it’s a really big cocoon.”
Bawla also said the Nick’s Fight to be Healed Foundation has been with his family every step of the way. “It’s not just the money, it’s this amazing support,” he said.
Bawla was in good spirits — he said he finished the race ahead of wife Sabrina. Ali, who ran and walked in separate races, also was in a good mood.
“I feel good, I feel more than good,” said Ali, a student at Loudonville Elementary School. “I feel excited. I feel like everybody’s supporting me.”
Abdallah Elmi, 18, of Clifton Park, won the race in 17:47. Leigh O’Connor, 36, of Cohoes was the top woman runner in 21:28 – 14th overall.
Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected].