Heater’s Heroes keep fighting after nine years
One of original kids to take part returns as inspiration for others
At first glance, she seemed like a shy vendor selling muffins and cupcakes Saturday.
But at this event, Hailey Patrick of Fort Erie is one of The Original 13. One of the first cancer-stricken kids to take part in Heater’s Heroes when it began in 2011. One of the 13 kids Mike Strange ran a lap with at Oakes Park, raising money to help children battling cancer.
Some of those original kids are now gone. The fact she’s still here — and now cancer-free — prompts Patrick to return every year to help out. She was one of them once, doing the track in a wheelchair while battling leukemia.
“I usually do a lap with one of them,” she said. “Today, my lap’s with one of the girls who also has leukemia.
“(I tell them) just hold on. Keep going.”
Strange, who has become a city councillor since that first event, beamed with pride over Patrick, who heads to Niagara College next month for baking and pastry arts.
“She looks like a model now, nobody knows she was ever sick. She should be telling her story in schools.”
Participants from past years are a constant inspiration to the new kids.
The ninth annual fundraiser had eight new heroes to run for Saturday, including four-year-old Cole Bragg of Grimsby. After a cancer diagnosis last summer, he underwent intense treatment and is now in remission. He ran the first lap with energy to spare.
“I don’t really know how I’m feeling,” said dad Mike, who walked alongside him. “It’s pretty emotional. I’m proud of him. Just honoured to be here with him.”
This year’s other seven heroes were Jayden Miller, Kegan MacPherson, Autumn Brown, Gavin Nagy, Carter Cunningham, Trenton Sebastian and Lilly Coulter.
To them, said Strange, each lap at Oakes Park can seem monumental.
“When these kids walk this lap, let’s give them a real big cheer,” he said. “This 400-metre lap is like them running a marathon.”
Strange started the event to honour his friend Bob (Heater) Lavelle, who died 10 years ago. The tireless owner of Clancy’s bar in Niagara Falls originated the NHL Slo-Pitch Classic at Oakes Park, and was a mentor to Strange while he was an Olympic boxer in the ’90s.
“He had a big, big heart,” said Strange. “We miss him and we really need to keep his legacy going.”
The event was attended by MPP Wayne Gates, MP Rob Nicholson, and most every member of city council.
“It’s unfortunate you need to lose something before you really appreciate it,” said Mayor Jim Diodati, who underwent his cancer battle last year. “If you lose a family member, you realize that’s the most important that you have. Frills and luxury and trips and money, they mean absolutely nothing in the big scheme of things.
“Every day I get up, and if it’s rainy weather … I’m just happy I get to get up.”
Fort Erie’s Hailey Patrick did the first Heater’s Heroes fundraiser in a wheelchair in 2011 while battling leukemia. She was back — with founder Mike Strange — for the ninth annual event Saturday.