From left, Massapequa coach Katie Meehan, Kristen Milio (mother of...

From left, Massapequa coach Katie Meehan, Kristen Milio (mother of Madison, pictured), Section VIII gymnastics coordinator Kim Rhatigan and Cold Spring Harbor coach Teri Kindelmann pose before the Cartwheel For A Cure gymnastics meet benefitting pediatric cancer at Berner Middle School on Saturday. Credit: Peter Frutkoff

For six years, ‘Cartwheel for a Cure,’ an annual gymnastics fundraising event in Nassau, raised money for The Boomer Esiason Foundation, which seeks to fund cystic fibrosis research. This was done, in part, because Cold Spring Harbor coach Teri Kindelmann has two children afflicted with the chronic condition that affects the lungs and digestive system.

But, before this year’s event, Kindelmann told Nassau County gymnastics coordinator Kim Rhatigan that this year’s meet should benefit the Madison Milio Tribute Fund, found on "thecurestartsnow.org."

The fund, which has raised over $24,000 as of Saturday, benefits pediatric brain cancer research, in memory of Madison Milio, a 9-year old Massapequa girl who died last month after a nearly three-year battle with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG, a type of brain cancer.

"People are still in shock that it happened," Kindelmann said. "It’s still so new. I felt that we needed to start bringing awareness right away….I felt that we, as a Nassau gymnastics community, needed to help her family out."

The two-day gymnastics event, which began Saturday at Berner Middle School in Massapequa and continues Monday at Cold Spring Harbor High School, will feature all 19 Nassau gymnastics teams; 10 competed on Saturday. The other nine with compete on Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"Martin Luther King Jr. said ‘life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘what are you doing to help others?,’’ Rhatigan said. "That’s the premise. What are you doing to help others? This is Nassau County gymnastics helping other children."

Rhatigan continued: "I think it was very kind and generous of (Kindelmann) to shift (funding) to Madison this year. She said ‘I want to do something for Madison.’ That’s how you pay it forward. People help you, you help them, and you keep paying it forward."

Milio’s mother, Kristen, was in attendance and spoke to the competitors before the meet.

"I’m so happy and grateful because not many people know about the cancer that my daughter had," said Kristen Milio, who was the gymnastics coach at Sewanhaka from 1999-2007. "The only way that they’re going to know about it is if we bring awareness to it, and that’s what this meet did today."

Following the meet, which saw Oceanside’s Catherine Brew win the All-Around with 34.3 points and Massapequa win the team title 166.65, gymnasts competed in a three-minute cartwheel contest. In the weeks prior to the meet, those competitors solicited donations, pledged based on how many cartwheels they could complete.

"I’m proud of Nassau County gymnastics thinking about awareness and helping others," Rhatigan said. "That’s what it boils down to. This isn’t a dress rehearsal. This is life and helping others, that’s what it’s about."

The meet was about service, not scores. Pictures of Madison hung in the gym, a constant reminder of what the day was about. Team championships and individual titles will come soon, Saturday was about something bigger then any jump on a balance beam or move on a floor.

"I’m trying to help the kids to learn to be aware of service over self, to help others that need help," Rhatigan said. "Instead of thinking about themselves, thinking about others that are in need."

"She fought a battle, beat the odds, and I will not let her name be forgotten and neither will her friends or family," Kristen Milio said. "We have to help these poor kids not pass away from this cancer. It’s such a bad cancer that, if they can cure this, then I think they can cure anything."

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