Nearly 800 caring people recently laced up their sneakers, put on their tutus and hit the pavement to raise money for children battling brain tumors. The Infinite Love for Kids Fighting Cancer seventh annual “Tutu Trot” 5K Run/Walk raised money for the Children’s Brain Tumor Network, a global research effort based at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. It was a day filled with community, purpose and a lot of love.
The first Tutu Trot, held in Trumbull, Connecticut in 2016, was inspired by kindergartener and cancer fighter Mia McCaffrey. Sadly, brave and charismatic Mia passed away at age 6, one year after her diagnosis. The race has continued on in her memory, an impactful annual tradition that brings the community together to drive awareness and raise money for critically needed research. The success of those Tutu Trots led the Infinite Love team to expand the race to add a virtual option and a simultaneous race in a second location this year – Middletown. On June 12, it all came together.
Race day was a rainy one in Middletown, but the raindrops did not dampen the energy and spirit of the hundreds of people who showed up for the 9 am start at Middletown High School South. As tutu-donning men, women and children of all ages gathered at the starting line, a sense of excitement and purpose could be felt in the air.
Before the Middletown Tutu Trot began, founder of the nonprofit foundation Infinite Love for Kids Fighting Cancer Andrea Verdone Gorsegner thanked those gathered for their support. She asked them to look for the photos of childhood cancer fighters, both survivors and angels, that were placed along the route and remember that every step they took during the race was for these children and the thousands like them that need help.
Middletown Mayor Tony Perry has been a strong and proud supporter of Infinite Love for years. Before he officially kicked off the race, he addressed the crowd with some heartfelt remarks.
“Throughout the last couple of years, we’ve been unable to gather with each other, and that makes it hard to raise money,” he said. “But the mission of Infinite Love did not stop through that time. Today we’re standing together to start that fight back up, to raise that money back up, and to help each and every family that gets the worst news possible – to give them that hope, to give them that love, and to make sure they know they are not alone in that fight.”
Runners included Infinite Love supporters and families who have endured childhood cancer. Michele and Frank Iacono’s son, Luca, an avid Giants and Yankees fan and student at Middletown’s Harmony Elementary School, was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma in third grade in 2017. Tragically Luca passed away in 2019, but his parents have continued their involvement with Infinite Love in honor of their son. After the race, Michele said, “Thank you Infinite Love, all the sponsors, volunteers, runners, everyone. What you do for our kids (and us families) is beautiful, heartwarming, and there are just no words to truly express the love and appreciation in our hearts. Thank you.”
Infinite Love for Kids Fighting Cancer was founded by Middletown resident Verdone Gorsegner after her daughter, Natalie, was diagnosed with leukemia at age 2. Natalie is now a 12-year-old survivor, and Infinite Love for Kids Fighting Cancer has grown to include a Connecticut chapter led by Infinite Love vice president and Mia’s father Jim McCaffrey, as well as more volunteers and lots of local support. The foundation runs multiple fundraisers each year and all proceeds go directly to funding new pediatric cancer research or assisting families with a childhood cancer fighter. Since 2013, the small but mighty foundation, powered entirely by volunteers, has helped hundreds of families and given more than $1.6 million to cancer researchers.
The Tutu Trot’s success hinged on not just the runners and walkers, but the generosity of dozens of companies that chose to sponsor and donate to the event. Multiple New Jersey locations of Lightbridge Academy teamed up to collectively donate the $10,000 platinum sponsorship amount. Lightbridge’s sponsorship was especially meaningful because it is where Natalie Gorsegner was a student when she was first diagnosed. Gold sponsors included Component West, J. Calnan Associates, Pace Cares, Suffolk Cares, SNA Displays and Gorsegner Brothers Hardwood Floors. In addition, local companies Navesink River Productions and Harbour Mechanical sponsored. Others generously donated food or services, including DJ Intense, Doodle Dude Art Kaney from the Middletown Arts Center, and Belle and Spiderman from My FairyTale Dream, who all showed up and endured the rain to help make the event possible. Gem’s House of Bagels, Dunkin’, Delicious Orchards, and Cuttler Produce donated food for the runners and volunteers. In addition, Infinite Love is grateful for the donated services provided by multiple local organizations. Volunteers from the Middletown Auxiliary Police helped with traffic and safety, and the Middletown Fire Police freely lent equipment for the day to mark the course. The Middletown Board of Education provided the venue at no cost, and Lincroft First Aid stayed at the race the whole time in case of an emergency. All donated time and goods meant money saved that could then go to the Children’s Brain Tumor Network based at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.