Walkathon Continues Memory of Talia, Raises Cancer Funds

photos and text by Willie Herrmann

(May 24, 2007) Students from around the community came together on May 18 to attend Mamaroneck High School's fifth annual Walkathon in memory of a fellow student who died of cancer in 2002. In addition to walking, attendees enjoyed live music, raffles and food while raising approximately $8400 for the Hope and Heroes Cancer Fund.

The first Walkathon was established five years ago in response to the devastating loss of Talia Cohen. (See: Students Walking May 30 in Memory of Talia Cohen.) At the age of fourteen, Talia, an eighth grader at Hommocks Middle School, was diagnosed with Stage IV Unfavorable Wilms Tumor. This type of cancer is usually found in much younger children.

The Cohen family attempted to fight the cancer using several different methods, both conventional and experimental. Unfortunately, as time went on, everything failed, including chemotherapy, stem cell transplants from her brother Danny, and an experimental treatment that was still in the developmental phase. On November 30, 2002, Talia died at the age of 16.

Talia's memory has lived on at MHS through an event that has become both cherished tradition and effective fundraiser. Each year, the proceeds from the Walkathon go to a selected charity This year, money was raised to support the Hope and Heroes Cancer Fund, which provides research support for the Herbert Irving Children and Adolescent Oncology Center at Columbia University Medical Center. The fund also helps continue the research of Talia's doctor, Darrell Yamashiro, who spoke at the event.

This year's walkathon was "more about the music," as evidenced by MHS graduate Ross Mintzer, who played with fellow alumnus Reuben Chess.
Walkathon organizers were forced to restructure the event because of weather conditions. Instead of walking the track, the attendees took over the school's gymnasium. Senior Danny Cohen, a Walkathon organizer and Talia’s brother, said,   "We were prepared for the rain this year," alluding to last year's outdoor Walkathon, which ended abruptly due to a sudden downpour. Carol Scheffler, coordinator of student activities at MHS, said before the Walkathon, "It is going to focus more on the music."

There was additional emphasis on the music this year because of the featured bands. For the first time, the Walkathon hosted the bands of MHS alumni in addition to current student bands. Quintus and Remington, with MHS alumni Reuben Chess and Ross Mintzer, wowed the crowd. "The last time I was here I was making up a gym class," Reuben joked with the crowd during Quintus' set.

Matt Lipkins was among the current MHS students entertaining the crowds at the walkathon.
For the alumni band members, this Walkathon was a homecoming in more ways than one. The two musicians had played together during their high school days, in a band named Dr. Meeker, and they had performed at the very first Walkathon. Both seemed to be having a great time as they played, and students appeared to reciprocate the enthusiasm. "It was great to see all the different bands playing," said sophomore Alex Lubben. "Everyone was really enjoying them." Junior Michael Levy exclaimed, "Quintus? More like Quint-abulous!"

While students always enjoy the Walkathon, raising money is the primary objective. "My expectations and my hopes are that we will raise a nice amount of money to benefit the Hope and Heroes Cancer Fund. That's certainly most important," Ms. Scheffler said before the event.

Her expectations were met and raised. The total amount taken in this year was approximately $8,400 – a significant increase from last year when the event earned around $5000.

With the fifth Walkathon in the books, organizers now turn their focus to the future after Talia's brother Danny graduates. Having Danny in the high school has helped keep the momentum going, but Ms. Scheffler said the Student Council believes “this event is now strong enough and important enough to the Mamaroneck High School community to just keep it going even if we don't have a Cohen in our high school."

“I am extremely grateful to the Student Council for continuing to sponsor and organize such a wonderful event in Talia's memory,” said Naomi Cohen, Talia’s mother. “I know Talia would have been thrilled by the turnout and the great spirit at the Walkathon. I am so impressed by the generosity and caring of the Mamaroneck High School student body. Let's work towards the  day that kids will no longer die of cancer.”

Students and parents alike are looking forward to the next Walkathon and doing as much as they can to help in the future. As Reuben Chess said to the crowd, "This here, this is a good thing."
Willie Herrmann is a junior at Mamaroneck High School.