Franklin Park Make-A-Wish recipient gives back through fundraising event |

Franklin Park Make-A-Wish recipient gives back through fundraising event

Courtesy of Natalie Abel
Zack Abel participates in Zack's Make a Move for Make-A-Wish fundraising event in 2012. This year's second annual fundraiser is set for July 28, 2013, in North Park.

About eight years ago, 6-year-old Zack Abel found a 7-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus rex in his Franklin Park backyard, and he couldn't have been happier.

This was thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to children diagnosed with a life-threatening medical conditions. Now 13, Zack wants to put the same smile on other children's faces as he raises money for the organization in Zack's Make A Move for Make-A-Wish five-mile mile bike/run/walk fundraiser on July 28 in North Park.

This is his second annual fundraiser.

“It helped me feel better with what I was going through, and I just want other kids to feel the same way,” Zack said.

Same-day registration starts at 8 a.m. at the North Park Boathouse, along Pearce Mill Road in McCandless. The event begins at 9 a.m., rain or shine. The entry fee for adults is $25, and the fee is $15 for participants ages 5 to 12. Children ages 4 and younger are admitted for free. All proceeds benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Pennsylvania and Southern West Virginia.

Zack, who will be a freshman at North Allegheny Intermediate High School in McCandless this fall, came up with the fundraising idea as a way to help the organization that helped him when he was younger.

At age 5, Zack was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, said Natalie Abel, Zack's mother. The soft-tissue cancer that affected the pelvic area was treated weekly and sometimes daily with chemotherapy for 10 months, she said.

“We pretty much lived at the hospital,” Natalie Abel said.

Zack wished for a dinosaur similar to those that were part of a public-art display in Pittsburgh several years ago, and his wish was granted while he was being treated.

While most children request a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida, according to Dana Antkowiak, marketing communications coordinator for Make-A-Wish of Greater Pennsylvania and Southern West Virginia, Zack had a different idea.

“Ever since he was 2, all he wanted to do was play with dinosaurs,” Natalie Abel said.

While those at the organization enjoy granting all wishes, making the unique ones come true can be especially rewarding, said Antkowiak, 31, of Wexford.

“When we hear of a wish that is so different and so outside of the box, it really stirs our creativity,” she said.

In order to get the dinosaur, which was designed by an artist especially for Zack, in his backyard, wish planners devised an all-day scavenger hunt throughout the Pittsburgh area to keep the boy busy.

It started out with a letter to Zack indicating a dinosaur had hatched an egg at the Pittsburgh Zoo, and he was sent there to find it. More clues sent Zack on a hunt throughout the area until he found Meaty, a light green fiberglass dinosaur, in his yard.

Zack said he still has it and never plans to get rid of it.

For his first fundraiser last year, Zack had a goal of $3,900, which is the average cost of a wish, based on the price of a one-week family trip to Walt Disney World, according to Antkowiak.

But Zack raised $24,500 and ultimately helped provide wishes for six children. This year, he'd like to do the same, with a goal of $25,000. He is busy gathering sponsorships and rounding up participants.

According to Antkowiak and his mother, Zack always is determined to help others.

For two years, he has been a summer volunteer in the barn at Glade Run Lutheran Services in Zelienople, which offers animal therapy.

And this summer, he is an intern for the local Make-A-Wish office, in addition to occasionally taking on public-speaking gigs for the organization, he said.

“He's always been a volunteer kid. He always wants to jump in and help,” Natalie Abel said. “His will is amazing. Nothing gets him down. He always has a smile on his face.”

Zack said everyone had a good time at last year's event, and he expects the same this year.

Although he recently had knee surgery, he still hopes to be able to ride his bike for the event.

Regardless, Zack will be there to offer support however he can.

“I like to see other kids' faces when I help them with something,” Zack said.

Natalie Beneviat is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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