Local boxers fight against childhood cancer

On Thursday, Sonny Conto, Oleksandr Gvozdyk and more ran an Alex’s Lemonade stand in the Italian Market.

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Last week, the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation partnered with Top Rank boxing promotional company and Di Bruno Bros to host a booth in the piazza at 9th and Montrose streets where several boxers served lemonade with cancer survivor Cole Patrick Fitzgerald. Above: Heavyweight prospect Sonny Conto of South Philly and cancer survivor Cole Patrick Fitzgerald. (Grace Maiorano/SPR)

For children facing cancer, the battle is seldom a fair fight.

So, taking some tips they’ve collected in the ring, a few local boxers leaned into the punch against pediatric illnesses last week through an Alex’s Lemonade stand popped up in the Italian Market.

Marking their first collaborations, the nationally renowned nonprofit partnered with Top Rank boxing promotional company and Di Bruno Bros to host a booth in the piazza at 9th and Montrose streets where several boxers convened, including WBC light heavyweight champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk, heavyweight prospect Sonny Conto of South Philly, Ray Robinson, Donald Smith, Joshafat Ortiz and Jeremy Adorno.

“Out here, we are fighting against childhood cancer, giving back to the community and we’re standing out here in the public, so everybody can support the cause for Cole,” said Conto, a native of the Lower Moyamensing neighborhood.

While the event promoted March 30’s ESPN-televised world light heavyweight matchup between Oleksandr “The Nail” Gvozdyk and Doudou Ngumbu at 2300 Arena, it also honored 15-year-old cancer survivor, Cole Patrick Fitzgerald who was on site distributing lemonade.

The Washington Township resident, who was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma as a toddler, attributes his life to the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, saying he had only a 20 percent chance of survival.

“We’re out here today to raise money for childhood cancer because of Alex Scott,” said Fitzgerald, who concurrently celebrated his birthday on the day of the event. “She started this all, and without Alex’s Lemonade Stand, I don’t think I’d be alive. So, we’re continuing what she started, and I hope we can continue it for a very long time.”

From January 2007 to April 2008, Fitzgerald, who is currently clinching a black belt in kickboxing, received six chemo treatments, several surgeries, including tumor removal, a successful stem cell transplant at CHOP, and 12 sessions of localized radiation, according to the event’s press release.

Fitzgerald has now been in remission for a decade.

Cancer survivor Cole Patrick Fitzgerald pours lemonade at the Italian Market booth. (Grace Maiorano/SPR)

Helping to organize the event, CEO of Raging Babe boxing promotion Michelle Rosado says, while planning the 2019 Fight Week, Top Rank felt inspired to embrace the community.

Brainstorming forms of charity, the team was drawn to the childhood cancer research foundation.

“South Philly is big, but it’s a small community,” Rosado said. “And we just got to thinking, ‘What can we do that would be meaningful, that would be significant, that would be giving back?’ And I think that cancer has probably touched everybody at some point in their lives.”

Some of the boxers have been personally affected by cancer, including super featherweight Joshafat Ortiz who says his mother is a breast cancer survivor.

Participating in the afternoon’s charity was near and dear to his heart.

“Just being able to support events like this and seeing that (Cole) actually survived cancer, too, and went through something just like my mom did,” Ortiz said. “It’s definitely a pleasure to come out here and support that…Just see how big life really is, ya know? People complain a lot about life, but it could be a lot worse and you can come here and see that you never give up. You keep fighting and you end up beating things in life.”

Boxers Joshafat Ortiz, Sonny Conto and Donald Smith with Cole Patrick Fitzgerald. (Grace Maiorano/SPR)

While a donation goal was not established, iconic boxing trainer and fight commentator Teddy Atlas unexpectedly stopped by the stand and donated $3,000 to the cause.

Although the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation hosts dozens of stands per year across the country, Emily Mullen, a partnership specialist from the organization, says this event was exceptionally gratifying, as dozens of folks walking through the neighborhood donated cash throughout the morning and afternoon.

“I think it’s nice to have unique events like this that are maybe a little different to get the attention of people in the communities,” she said. “This is one of the most unique events I’ve seen so far…We consider any stand a success. We always say, ‘Every dollar counts and we’re just trying to cure childhood cancer one cup at a time.’ ”

gmaiorano@newspapermediagroup.com 

Twitter: @gracemaiorano