Amid the Nassau gymnastics season, there’s one highly-anticipated meet where the gymnasts can forgo competition and perform for a larger purpose.
Over 250 gymnasts gathered at Berner Middle School in Massapequa on Saturday for the eighth annual ‘Cartwheel for a Cure' fundraising event, which raised awareness and collected donations for the Madison Milio Tribute Fund for the second straight year.
The fund benefits pediatric brain cancer research in memory of Madison Milio, a 9-year-old Massapequa girl who died in December 2021 after a 32-month battle with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG.
Madison’s mom, Kristen, was the Sewahaka gymnastics coach from 1999 to 2007, and her involvement in the community never faded. She attended Saturday’s meet and spoke to the teams.
“It’s incredible to see the immense support that the gymnastics community has shown over the past few years,” Kristen Milio said. “At events like these, Madison continues to live on.”
For the first six ‘Cartwheel for a Cure’ meets, the proceeds went to The Boomer Esiason Foundation, a non-profit organization that benefits cystic fibrosis research.
Cold Spring Habor coach Teri Kindelmann, who has 12-year-old and 10-year-old daughters with CF, wanted to raise awareness of the chronic condition that affects the lungs and digestive system. But after hearing of Madison’s tragic passing last year, she wanted to bring the community together for a different cause.
“Kristen and her family were in need of support,” Kindelmann said. “I could never fully understand what she was going through, but I did understand that awareness can bring comfort. I thought the best way to support her would be to bring Nassau together through this meet.”
Bethpage coach and Nassau gymnastics coordinator Kim Rhatigan helped start 'Cartwheel for a Cure’ in 2015 after she and Kindelmann wanted to schedule a low-pressure meet that could also benefit a charity.
“We’re here to teach gymnastics, but we’re also here to teach these girls how they can give back to others and do more for their communities,” Rhatigan said.
Rhatigan chose the weekend before Martin Luther King Jr. Day to honor his famous saying, “What can we do for others?”
“What started as a dual charity meet between Cold Spring Harbor and Bethpage, has grown from five teams to eight teams and finally into our biggest event of the year with every team involved,” Rhatigan said. “This is a great way for our gymnasts to recognize how they can help others. Today is about service, not scores.”
For the first time, the meet took place on one day rather than two. The teams were divided by conference, with Nassau I scheduled in the morning and Nassau II performing in the afternoon.
Gymnasts on the Massapequa team spent hours setting up the gym Friday night. They continued early Saturday morning, where they were joined by Kristen Milio, who hung photos of Madison around the gym.
“We start planning this meet before the season even begins in November,” Massapequa coach Katie McCabe said. “The girls look forward to this all season, and they’re eager to help.”
“This day is dedicated to a great cause and we feel lucky to be such a big part of it,” Massapequa senior Jackie Lih said. “We were excited to host it again this year with teams we wouldn’t normally compete with during the season.”
This year's event saw 19 of 20 teams competing, with Long Beach respectfully pulling out of the meet due to the devastating loss of 18-year-old Gerrin Hagen, a senior at Long Beach High School, on Friday afternoon.
“Gerrin Hagen was a tremendous loss to our community,” Long Beach coach Jessica Tull said. "In respect to the family and community, we decided to give our girls time to grieve and spend the day with their family and friends.”
Following the Nassau I session, which saw Cali Yu win the All-Around event with 34.9 points to help Plainview earn the team title with a score of 170.775, the three-minute cartwheel contest ensued. Each team and its gymnasts found a space on the floor to complete as many cartwheels as possible.
“The decision to hold this event in Madison’s name again this year was done without question,” Kindelmann said. “We never expected it to become what it is today, but with the incredible community we have, it will certainly continue to grow for years to come.”
“Madison didn’t have the life I expected for her, but now she has become larger than life,” Kristen Milio said. “Today isn’t even about the money, it’s about awareness. The more people that know about this terrible disease and how it affects your body, the closer we will get to finding a cure. That’s all I hope to achieve, and this event makes that possible. I can’t thank this community enough for what they have done.”