Sick Lunenburg Boy Revved About His Special Day
By Nick Mallard
RUTLAND -- As hundreds of motorcycles roared onto the dirt road of the Pout and Trout campground, Brandon Cotoni’s smile shined brighter than even the sun on a hot and humid Sunday afternoon.
The 8-year-old beamed from ear to ear, watching as Rutland Fire Department vehicles, vintage hot rods and more than 300 motorcycles accompanied one special guest through the campground. And when Santa Claus arrived decked out in seasonable fashion -- a tropical shirt and shorts -- it checked multiple things off of Brandon’s bucket list.
Brandon, a Lunenburg resident, has battled stage 4 neuroblastoma since 2016. And as treatments have failed him and spread to an untreatable state in his leg, his family has helped the young man put together a bucket list, which included camping and visiting with Santa Claus.
“We knew this was happening, but we had no idea how big this was going to be,” said Jennifer Cotoni, Brandon’s mother. “It’s a nice distraction and seeing Brandon as the center of it all and loving every moment, it’s really special. It’s amazing to see how many people have come together for this.”
Brandon Cotoni received dozens of gifts, smiling and laughing with his siblings, Kaylee, 7, and Cody.
“This is really cool,” Brandon said.
Pout and Trout owner Ruth Locke said her granddaughter, Haley DelGuidice, is a third-grader in Lunenburg and knows Brandon. Having children and grandchildren herself, Locke said she was “driven to do this” when she was told of Brandon’s desire to go camping.
“He’s an extremely bright and smart little boy. And he’s very excited to have a day that’s all about him,” Locke said. “My children and grandchildren are my life and I can’t imagine what that family is going through. When the idea came up I absolutely couldn’t say no. We wanted to help however we could.”
Locke says her staff and campers at the campground had been unbelievable in putting together the special day.
“Everything here is done by donation and volunteers,” Locke said. “Any money that comes in today is going straight to the Cotoni family.”
Zakk Rocker, president and co-founder of Bikers Against Abusing Kids (BAAK), put out the call to motorcycle owners a week ago to organize a parade into the campground to deliver Santa to Brandon. He marveled at how things turned out.
“Normally, you can kind of get a feel for things when you send out a Facebook invitation and get 20, 30 percent of the people to respond,” Rocker said. “With this, I think everyone said they were in. We have all of our riders and clubs from other places coming in. It’s just incredible.”
Mike Elchuck, the assistant director of the Leominster Chapter of the Harley Owners Group, passed along a patch to Brandon, displaying some choice language toward cancer. Elchuck himself has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“There’s some extra special meaning for me being here,” Elchuck said. “It’s something that no one should have to go through.”
To the Cotonoi family, being able to forget about things and seeing their 8-year-old simply being a kid was something that was needed.
“To have a day like this and see him smiling, it’s something that means a lot to us,” said Jennifer Cotoni, as her husband David stood by. “He’s such a happy, upbeat kid despite everything he’s been through. We want him to know how special he is.
“I keep telling people thank you today, but I feel like it’s not enough. This has been so great.”