Matteo Lambert, 9, of Virginia, runs in Saturday's Purple Ribbon Run...

Matteo Lambert, 9, of Virginia, runs in Saturday's Purple Ribbon Run 5K in Wantagh. Credit: David L. Pokress/David L. Pokress

Matteo Lambert was easy to pick out in the crowded field of runners participating in Saturday’s Purple Ribbon Run 5K in Wantagh.

He’s only 4 feet tall and was the only runner wearing a cape.

Matteo, 9, of Vienna, Virginia, plans to run 32 races across the country this year to raise money for a charity supporting children with cancer. His goal is to raise $50,000 and to run 100 miles by October, his father, Brandon Lambert, said.

“I like running to help people and to have fun,” Matteo said after Saturday’s race.

Brandon Lambert said his son showed an early interest in running and told him he wanted to run a race a week. After he participated in a run to support his grandfather, a prostate cancer survivor, they came up with the idea for the fundraiser.

Matteo now runs for a Virginia-based nonprofit called Hopecam, which helps children with cancer cope with the social isolation that comes from intensive therapy. Hopecam gives children tablets so they can virtually connect with their peers and participate in some classroom activities remotely. 

“He was really passionate about running and very empathetic,” Brandon Lambert said. “We thought we could join the two in this way.”

The Wantagh race, which raises money for pancreatic cancer research, was Matteo’s 21st of the year. Last week, he ran a 5K in Chicago and got to meet Anthony Rizzo, a first baseman for the Cubs and a Hodgkin lymphoma survivor, before the team's game against the San Diego Padres. He asked the player for a “moonshot” — a home run — for all the kids fighting cancer and Rizzo delivered with a grand slam.

As he waited at the starting line Saturday, the 9-year-old draped himself in a blue cape which had on it a photo of a Westchester boy battling leukemia and contemplated how the humidity and the blisters on his feet would affect his time.

He sped through the course, which wound through residential streets, and crossed the finish line in 25 minutes and 29 seconds.

It wasn’t his best race — he ran  a 5K in St. Louis in 22 minutes and 19 seconds. The heat had gotten to him, he said, his face still flushed. But he was already excited for a race he’ll run Sunday in Atlantic City.

“It’s hard but not compared to what kids with cancer go through,” Matteo said.

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