By Dan Hust
ELDRED September 25, 2007 Their eyes speak volumes.
They talk of days of pain and sorrow, of humiliation and heartache, the kind only a child can feel.
They also speak of days of fun and freedom, of relaxation and joy again, the kind that only the young among us experience.
And on Saturday, those eyes sparkled as more than 500 people slid and slogged their way through southern Sullivan County just for them.
Eight-year-old Candace Battiste of Smallwood and 10-year-old Elizabeth Grese of Liberty had never been closer to these hundreds of ATVs, nor to the people who came from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut to raise money for the girls’ battles with health concerns.
Battiste has been struggling with giant congenital nevus, a fairly rare skin disorder that disfigured her face with possibly cancerous, hairy black growths.
She’s undergone nine surgeries and is expecting a 10th next year, although in most every respect, she is a typical third-grader.
Grese is also no stranger to health problems, though hers cropped up just last year when doctors diagnosed her with Ewing’s Sarcoma cancer of the bone.
She’s had to endure 31 chemotherapy treatments and surgery on her spine to remove tumors, although this fifth-grader, like Battiste, remains a happy youngster with a zest for life.
Indeed, her observation of the four-wheeling crowd Saturday was spot-on: “A lot of people are dirty!”
Their families, however, have struggled along with them, and the financial and physical tolls have been steep.
That’s why Saturday’s ninth annual Sullivan County ATV Association Poker Run was such a blessing to them.
“I think it’s outstanding,” said Battiste’s grandfather, Chuck Jacobs, who has rethought his opinion of quad-riders. “To say I’m impressed would be an understatement.”
“If it wasn’t for the community, we wouldn’t make it,” acknowledged Grese’s dad, John. “. . . We were a two-income family now we’re one.”
“It’s really hard,” added mom Liz. “People have no idea.”
It’s not just juggling her paralegal work in Chester with weekly trips to Westchester Medical Center (which, thanks to boss Gary Greenwald, is easier than it otherwise would be). The Greses have to keep their family’s spirits up, maintain a sterile house, even watch out for the speed bumps that could shatter their daughter’s delicate bones.
“It’s not ever going to be over,” admitted Liz.
But it’s getting better, and ATV Association President Ellis Garcia is grateful to have the opportunity to help.
Thanks to the association’s core membership and a slew of volunteers, the Poker Runs have become significant fundraisers for the neediest families in Sullivan County.
Not only do they bring in tens of thousands of dollars (which the non-profit divvies up between the families and necessary event expenses), they infuse a needed sense of joy and vitality into everyone who participates.
“A lot of people love to donate and are fortunate and want to give back,” Garcia explained while a DJ entertained the large crowd at the Eldred Preserve Saturday.
While he acknowledged that the thrill of the ride draws many, “we’re not out here for racing or generating noise we want to help.”
Garcia himself took his Polaris 800 out on the trail, which spanned properties owned by the Preserve, the Ten Mile River Boy Scout Camp, and the Iroquois and Excelsior hunting clubs.
“I do it because I have children,” he said. “And I love the feeling of giving to somebody.”
So did more than 400 others, and that charity from both Saturday’s event and a winter run will result in checks being given to the families at a dinner at the Preserve on October 25.