Tutu Trot Relay provides support to sick Jane Ryan students
An English teacher at a loss for words doesn’t seem right.
But that’s what happens to Trumbull High teacher and girls cross-country head coach Jim McCaffrey when he’s asked about the outpour of support he’s received from his students and athletes since his daughter, Mia, was recently diagnosed with cancer.
McCaffrey, who also coaches the school’s girls outdoor track team and volunteers as a firefighter at the Long Hill Fire Department, and his family are preparing for the Tutu Trot — a special event being held at Trumbull High School at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, June 5, to benefit and support Mia and her fellow Jane Ryan Elementary School classmate and friend, Caroline, who have both been battling pediatric cancer together this year.
“We were floored when we heard the idea,” said McCaffrey, whose runners have played a large part organizing the three-person relay race.
“Mia was diagnosed the day after the outdoor track season started and I remember I couldn’t hold back my tears,” he added. “I told them I wouldn’t be as present as I normally am and when I came to school the next week there were all sorts of cards on my desk and all the girls on the team started wearing pink and blue bows that said ‘MIA STRONG’ on them.”
Sydney Adams, a senior captain on the track team, remembers hearing the tragic news from her coach and thinking immediately there had to be a way to give back to a man who meant so much to her and her peers.
She came up with the idea for a relay race earlier this spring and incorporated tutus as de facto batons that could be taken off and passed on to the next runner, because of Mia’s love for princesses.
And like a sprinter coming out of her stance, the concept took off.
“We started planning a couple of months ago and we already have 110 teams signed up — that’s a lot of people registered to run, and we have almost as many volunteers,” Adams said. “We have 300 tutus for those who pre-register and if we get more than 300 teams to sign up for the race, then it will become a bring your own tutu event.
“We have as much room for as many people who want to register and run,” she added.
Tiers of tutus
Like with any booming idea, Adams and the event’s other organizers have re-arranged the pre-registration process into three tiers.
Tier-three registration for the 1.7-mile race is now closed; however, tier-two registration, which costs $40 per person and includes three custom-made race shirts, will remain open until Saturday, June 4 — or until the event sells out of shirts.
Tier two also includes three meal tickets, three “No One Fights Alone” bracelets, three customized race bibs and one team tutu — for the first 300 teams.
“With me being involved in running, I think it’s a great fit,” said McCaffery, who acknowledged that Caroline’s family would like to remain private as the event is being promoted.
As for tier-one registration, that will remain open until 6 a.m. Saturday, June 4, and will include the meal tickets, bracelets, and race bibs, as well as one team tutu if they aren’t sold out.
The cost for a tier-one team is $25 per person.
“Coach means so much to me — he’s an inspiration for me in my life and in track,” Adams said. “It’s nice to know that we will be able to give back to someone who’s given a lot to us.”
Change in lifestyle
Besides the daily struggles of watching his daughter fight cancer in and out of hospitals, the Trumbull father said the most difficult part of the process has been figuring out the balance between being a hyper-sensitive, protection-oriented guardian and letting his child be a kid.
“It’s a totally different way of living your life,” he said.
“Before Mia was diagnosed, my wife and I had no problem letting her run around and be a typical kid,” he added. “But right now, it’s something we have to worry about — we have to be cautious about her interacting with other sick children at school and on the playing fields.”
The day-to-day challenges have been mitigated through community generosity, McCaffery said.
“Being an English teacher, I take pride in being able to describe things but I can’t even begin to put into words how great the support has been,” he said.
Perhaps there has been no greater lifestyle change for Mia than losing her hair, but even in that terrifying moment, she has remained strong and brought light into a world that could be perceived as consumed in darkness.
Before the disease could claim her hair, Mia’s parents allowed her to dye her hair pink and blue.
“Before it fell out, we had our heads shaved together,” McCaffery said. “She shaved mine and I shaved hers...
“One story I like to tell colleagues and friends is when we were coming home from a chemotherapy treatment and Mia said to me, ‘I don’t even miss my hair anymore because it’s not in my face,’” he added. “She inspires us every minute of every day.”
Superman of Trumbull
If there’s one wish that McCaffrey wishes could be granted, it would be to have the power to erase cancer — or at least transfer it.
“You just stay up at night wanting to take it on yourself just so that she could be healthy and not have to worry anymore,” he said.
If it’s any consolation, by all accounts, McCaffrey does have some skills that resemble those depicted in superhero movies.
“He makes track enjoyable — I look forward to it everyday,” Adams said. “He’s personally my favorite coach and I’m sure 160 other girls would probably agree. He gets to know all of us on a personal level — every day at track, he knows our names and wants everyone to do their best. He’s one of those guys that you have to have respect for because he’s all about making other people better…
“Knowing he and his family is going through this hard time is really heartbreaking,” the senior captain added.
Looking back at her four years at Trumbull High School, Adams said she couldn’t have gotten through it without her track and cross-country coach.
“He’s been my coach for the last five or six years — it’s hard to imagine him not being there with us,” she said. “He pushes us so hard and wants to know about our running, but, most importantly, he wants to know about our personal life.”
Ups and downs
If the impact on young athletes doesn’t confirm McCaffrey’s impact on the community, then the long list of sponsors for the Tutu Trot should be more than enough proof.
From Pepperidge Farm to the Home Depot to Nestle to the Fairfield School of Music, the trot’s organizers have had no problem finding businesses who want to support Mia and Caroline.
“It’s amazing that something as horrible as this has produced some pretty positive things,” McCaffery said. “It’s difficult to endure the ups and downs but knowing that you have an entire community that supports you makes a huge difference.”
The high school is located at 72 Strobel Road and the race will take place on the fields behind the school. The race begins at 4:30 p.m. and day of registration and pre-registration packet pickup begins at 3 p.m.
There is a post-race barbecue scheduled with festivities beginning around 4:45 p.m.
The first two legs of the race are .5 miles and the third is slightly longer at .7 miles.
Photos taken at the event will be posted afterward. Event organizers are asking photographers tag pictures with #teamcarolineandmia.