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Friday
Jun242011

One Man's Mission to Raise Money for Cancer by Surfing

Ralph Fatello surfed every day for a year, even during New Hampshire's harsh winter. (Gabby Fatello)(HAMPTON, N.H.) -- Every single day for nearly the last year, Ralph Fatello has climbed on his surfboard, and ridden a wave off the New Hampshire coast.

Fatello isn't trying to get into the record books. Closing in on age 60, he's not trying to prove he can keep up with the teen surfers of his youth. He's not trying to win a bet. Fatello is on a mission to surf one wave every day for a year to raise money for financially-strapped families dealing with a child diagnosed with cancer.

It's all in memory of 5-year-old Molly Rowlee, who was "just starting to surf," according to Fatello. In February of 2009, the little girl with the big smile complained of a stomach ache. She was soon diagnosed with lymphoma.

"Molly made wonderful progress" after her initial chemotherapy treatment, according to her father Buck Rowlee. But the cancer soon returned, and five months after her diagnosis, Molly died.

It sent the tight knit surfing community in New Hampshire, "into a tail spin," said Fatello. Molly's parents set up the "Molly Rowlee Fund," at Boston's Dana-Farber/Children's Hospital Cancer Center, where Molly was treated.

The Molly Rowlee Fund, formally established just this past December, is designed to offer families "concrete support," according to the hospital, including money for rent, mortgages, transportation and food.

As Buck Rowlee put it, "The families can use the money to help pay bills, or put gas in the tank, or food on the table."

In a written statement, Daisy Gomez, with Pediatric Psychosocial Services at Dana-Farber told ABC News the Fund " has helped nearly a dozen families who have been financially impacted by lengthy hospitalizations and out-of-pocket costs associated with their child's cancer."

Molly's parents have raised $20,000 for the Fund so far, and have pledged to raise another $80,000 dollars over the next five years.

That's where Ralph Fatello comes in.

This is Fatello's second "surf-a-thon". A decade ago, he surfed every day for a year to raise money for the American Diabetes Association. It was in honor of his father, and the year-long effort brought in $33,000

He admits this time, being a decade older, it's been a bit harder. "I started to work out, and lost 30 pounds," said Fatello. Then he took to his surfboard. His first day of the marathon effort was July 26 of last year, and he'll wrap it up July 26, 2011, after 366 consecutive days on the water. That will be just past the two year anniversary of Molly's death.

Fatello has his own standard for what counts as surfing a wave for Molly. "I have to ride the length of the board I am riding," he says, "In other words if I am riding a 9' board I have to go at least 9 feet. This is helpful on the really small (wave) days. Those are the hardest."

And as he has been trudging to the beach every single day over the past year, cancer struck even closer to home.

His sister was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He’s now catching a second wave each day for her.

But the graphic artist, writer and photographer is hardly complaining. He says the hardest day will be the day after he finishes his surfing epic. Fatello isn't sure how much money this effort will raise. Many of his donors have pledged a dollar-a-day, and they won't pay up until his effort his over. He hopes to bring it at least $20,000 dollars for what he calls his "catch a wave for Molly" fundraiser.

As for next year, "I'll be going somewhere tropical," laughed Fatello. But even has he does, he hopes the marathon of this past year will mean smoother sailing for families going through one of the most difficult times of their lives.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio