Wearing signed riding goggles, 4-year-old Taylin Bennett held on tight to the saddle of a horse, while a jockey competing in this year’s Belmont Stakes made sure he didn’t fall.
After visiting his brother Jumani, 10, at Cohen Children’s Hospital multiple times in two weeks for appendicitis, the annual Jockey Day at the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island in New Hyde Park was a necessary break for his family.
“It’s such a relief to see my kids having fun after dragging them to the hospital every day,” said his mother, Jessica Bennett, 35, of Ridge. “I want to be there for my son, but it’s hard to see him so sick. This gives us the break we need to be strong for him.”
Bennett was among the dozen children who mingled with jockeys competing in the 145th running of the Belmont Stakes in Elmont on June 8. Javier Castellano, Jose Ortiz, 19, of Elmont, and Irad Ortiz, 20, posed for photos and handed out autographed riding goggles to families with seriously ill children on Friday.
Matthew Campo, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island, said the organization has been serving the community for 26 years, providing a place to stay for families with seriously ill children in proximity to a major hospital.
“Jockey Day is meant to provide a little bit of a distraction for families with sick children,” said Campo, 34, of Wantagh. “It’s [a] momentary relief from the crisis they’re going through.”
Not only is Castellano thrilled to compete for the 7th time, but he was also overjoyed to meet families with sick children and be able to bring a smile to their faces.
“I love being with these kids. It’s a lot of fun,” said Castellano, 35, of Garden City. “If we can bring a smile to their faces and comfort their families only for a short time it’s still worth it.”
Lisa Walpole has stayed at the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island multiple times over five years while her daughter Taylor receives medical treatment at Cohen Children’s Hospital.
The now 17-year-old was diagnosed at age 12 with congenital adrenal hyperplasia, an adrenal gland disease that affects her heart, kidneys and reproductive organs and will require medical treatment for the rest of her life.
“Taylor and I love horses,” said Lisa Walpole, 52, of Oswego. “An event like this creates a relaxing ambience for sick children and their parents. Seeing how happy the kids are to meet the jockeys and ride the horses ease our nerves and lightens the mood.”