New Hampshire Legend Ralph Fatello
Commits To "Catch A Wave For Molly"
Over Next 365 Days
By Alison Arteaga
New Hampshire's Ralph Fatello is more than just a surfer. For the next year, whenever Ralph makes his way to the ocean — through summer heat waves, winter ice storms, and gale-force winds — he won't just be doing it to ride waves. He'll be surfing to keep alive the memories of loved ones and provide hope to families suffering through their darkest hours. Ralph Fatello is a man on a mission: a mission to raise money for cancer patients by surfing 365 days in a row.
His task will not be easy, and no one knows that better than Ralph. Ten years ago, at the age of 50, he embarked on a similar quest to raise money for the American Diabetes Association in honor of his late father, who passed away as a result of the disease. Fatello succeeded in his goal of surfing every day for a year, and in the process, raised more than $20,000. But he said there were many times when the challenges he faced were almost daunting enough to force him to quit.
Some days he had to shovel four feet of snow from his driveway in order to get to the beach, and then he shivered in 20 degrees below zero wind-chill as he bobbed around waiting to catch a wave. Other days, he had trouble finding enough daylight time to split among his other responsibilities and was forced to paddle out at night and ride in the dark. There were even days when strong storms blew through with 50-knot winds, and the only waves he could ride were windswells heading straight out to sea.
"There are definitely times when the last thing you want to do is put on your wetsuit and trudge down to the ocean," Fatello says. "But it's like I've always told my kids: once you've committed to something, you have to see it through."
The inspiration for FateIto's newest commitment is the memory of beloved family and friends like his mother, his best friend Joe Somogyi, New Hampshire surf scene staple Linda Paugh, and especially Molly Rowlee. Molly was a beautiful, bubbly five-year-old who was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma in February 2009. The disease is classified as one of the most curable types of cancer, but nonetheless, just five short months later, it claimed Molly's life. Her sudden and heartbreaking passing brought the entire New Hampshire surfing community together arid led her parents Buck and Meighan to create The Molly Fund, a non-profit organization that provides financial support for families with children who are battling cancer.
Although Molly's time on earth was cut tragically short, she touched many lives, and Fatello says that from the moment he met her, she made a lasting impression on him. Molly and her family attended Surf Family Robinson, an annual treasure-hunt themed surf party that Fatello organizes, and when it came time for the event's make-believe battle between Ralph and a pirate, Molly was so upset that she pulled Fatello aside to check on him. "She was so concerned for me, and she couldn't understand why the pirate hated me so much, because she thought I was so much fun," he laughs. "We had a long conversation about it, and she really touched my soul."
The loss of such a special girl got Fatello thinking about all the other loved ones he had lost to cancer, and he began to think about how he could honor them. "I really wanted to do something special," Ralph says, "so I thought back to what I had done for my dad 10 years ago, and I started wondering if I would really be able to pull something like that off again, because I'm no spring chicken, that's for sure."
By the spring of 2010, Fatello had worked himself into shape and his plan had come together. He would catch one wave every 24 hours and ride at least the length of his board for 365 consecutive days starting on July 26th, with all of the money that he raises from sponsors going straight to The Molly Fund. Fatello convinced his family that he knew exactly what he was getting himself into, and he made sure that he would have all the motivation he needed to complete his task by writing the names of his loved ones on the nose of his new board, a "Big Black" model shaped by local staples Mike Stanek and Sashi Lyford.
"My inspiration will be that little five-year-old girl, my mother, my best friend Joe, and Linda Paugh," he says. "When it gets tough for me, I still won't even be able to imagine how hard it was for them during their fight. I know this is going to be difficult, but I'll just look at those names and talk to them, and they will help me get through it."
Although Fatello does not have a specific monetary goal for his mission, he knows exactly the outcome he wants. "The most rewarding part of this will be bringing the surf community together," he says. "We'd all give anything to have Molly back, and regardless of how much money we raise, the ultimate reward is all about love and support."
Fatello's efforts began at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, July 26th at The Wall in Hampton, NH, with the Rowlee family and others gathering in support of Ralph. Fatello will also be accepting donations to his cause via his Ralph's Pic Of The Week website (www.ralphspacorn) and The Molly Fund's website (www.mollyrowlee.com). All who donate will have their names added to a longboard decoraated in pink. Molly's favorite color.