Sledding event honors memory of Hudson teen
Packed inside their oversized Space Shuttle sled, Hudson residents coast across the finish line during Sunday's Cool Runnings event at Benson Park. Pictured are Shaylee Apitz, 9, Samantha DeFeo, 11, Sam Crooker, 12, Corwin DeFeo, 10, Jake Apitz, 11, Jessica Capaiola, 17, and Mike Campaiola, 16. (APRIL GUILMET PHOTO)
Friends of the Hudson 13-year-old, who died in October 2009 after a long battle with rheumatoid arthritis followed by a diagnosis of leukemia, are hoping to keep her memory alive with plans to construct a large amphitheater inside Benson Park in her honor.
On Sunday morning, Mallory's family, friends and former classmates (known collectively as "Mal's Pals") gathered at the park to host a colorful fundraiser befitting the cheerful young woman who loved to take photos, paint, read and listen to her beloved Jonas Brothers albums.
Members of Mal's Pals held the first Cool Runnings sledding event in 2011, event spokesman Jeremy Griffus said. It had just snowed, and dozens of area children and adults got in on the fun, coasting down the hill at lightning speed in their hand-made sleds.
Using simple materials like cardboard, duct tape and glue, participants made sleds in all shapes and sizes. This year's lineup included a giant NASA space shuttle, a 1950s Cadillac, an Army tank, a Star Wars "Mal-Lennium" Falcon, a pink flamingo, an ice cream truck and a pink unicorn.
Prizes were awarded for the fastest and most creative sleds, as well as the best overall theme. While last year's event was canceled due to lack of snow, there was just enough remaining on the park's steepest hill for this year's festivities.
About two-dozen sleds competed in this year's Cool Runnings races, with all registration fees and monies earned from a concession stand to be used toward the construction of the amphitheater.
Mal's Pals supporter Pauline Reagan said the plans for the project have already been submitted to the town and now it's just a matter of raising enough money to break ground.
"We're really hoping to have it built sometime this spring, in time for the summer concert season," Reagan said.
The finished project will serve as both a gathering spot and a local stage, Griffus said, with vaulted ceilings, white columns and a slate roof rising out of a grass field.
Mal's Pals will also be planting a memorial garden honoring Mallory.
Mallory's mother, Tracy Gray, fought back tears as she shared memories of her only daughter. "She was the best little girl a mother could ask for," Gray said. "Her body just couldn't keep up."
She's hoping the site will prove meaningful both for those who knew Mallory and those who never met her.
"It's such a beautiful spot overlooking the pond," said Gray. "People can come there and sit. She'll be remembered for years to come."
Hudson parents Dan and Chris Magovern attended Sunday's event with their sons Evan, 7, and Connor, 6. The family came out to watch the sled races at the initial Cool Runnings event back in 2011, but this was their first time building a sled of their own.
"It worked out perfectly, as we had a dryer box in the garage," Dan Magovern said with a grin, motioning to the Boston Bruins' Zamboni machine he helped his sons construct out of cardboard.
"They just love to sled," added the boys' mother, Chris.
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