A fundraiser 5K run started two years ago by state police Trooper David Cunniff and his wife, Amy, is going ahead again this Saturday.
It’s the third annual 5K Walk-n-Roll to raise research money to find a cure for spinal muscular atrophy, a disease that has required the Cunniffs’ son Caleb to use a wheelchair.
It’s also the first 5K Walk-n-Roll held since Trooper Cunniff’s on-duty death last December. The event is being held in his memory.
“It’s very bittersweet,” Cunniff’s widow said Thursday. “I’ve cried a lot the past couple weeks.”
But, she said, the event is an important one for her, her family and those suffering from the same disease as Caleb.
“This,” she said, “is part of Dave’s legacy.”
That legacy will continue Saturday morning at Colonie Mohawk River Park, 71 Schermerhorn Road. Registration begins at 9 a.m. The 5K and the shorter Walk-n-Roll will kick off at 10. Registrations will be taken until the race begins.
There will also be activities for kids. The 5K is officially timed and is pledge-based.
This year’s goal is to raise $20,000 for the charity. It’s already raised more than $16,000. Donation information is at www.fsma.org/Capital5K.
Trooper Cunniff, of Duanesburg, died Dec. 17 of injuries suffered in an on-duty accident the night before. A tractor-trailer slammed into Cunniff’s trooper car during a traffic stop on the Thruway near Amsterdam. The investigation into the crash is continuing.
The trooper left behind his wife and two sons, Caleb and Zachary. The boys were 6 and 4 at the time of their father’s death.
Caleb suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, a degenerative genetic neuromuscular disease that affects 1 in every 10,000 babies.
Respiratory problems are a hallmark of the disease, but his mother said he has avoided those.
The fundraiser is a continuation of Amy Cunniff and her husband’s commitment to fight the disease. She recalled receiving the diagnosis and the two of them deciding then that they wouldn’t stop until a cure was found. They set a goal of raising $1 million to fight the disease.
After Cunniff’s death, the family asked that donations be made to the Families of SMA charity, now called Cure SMA. Donations poured in.
The Cunniffs started the fundraiser in 2012 as another way to beat the disease. The couple were founders of the Greater New York Capital Region Chapter of Families of Spinal Muscular Atrophy, working with other families affected by SMA.
The event was modeled after the national organization’s Walk-n-Roll events. But the Cunniffs added the 5K element. Amy Cunniff recalled that her husband’s co-workers suggested it and that he was instrumental in making it happen.
Amy Cunniff, though, said she wasn’t sure if she wanted to do the event this year. Her husband had done a lot of the work for the first two races and she wasn’t sure if she could take that on herself.
She ended up not having to. Her husband’s fellow troopers helped. The Families of SMA main office in Chicago did what it could. Others, including family and friends, have helped as well.
“It just took off,” she said.
Among the teams signed up to run is one made up of members of her husband’s state police academy class.
This year’s race is officially in memory of David Cunniff. Next year, the race will be renamed for him.
The state police, she said, have been the best.
“I’m still overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and love we’ve gotten,” Amy Cunniff said.
The continuing work to raise money to fight her son’s disease through events like Saturday’s run, she said, helps those involved concentrate on the goal.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” she said, “not to stay focused on grief, but to stay hopeful.”