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SAGAMORE HILLS -- Superheroes were abound in Sagamore Hills Park April 29.
Sure, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman were there, but so were more than 750 community members who registered to walk/run in support of Tessa Puma, a 6-year-old Northfield Elementary kindergartner, and her family for the Team Tessa 5K fundraising event.
Tessa has been in the hospital since March having lost her left from the knee down to what doctors tell the family is a rare infection. Tessa's story has inspired many and even made national news.
Tessa's father Matt Puma attended the event with Tessa's brother Tyler, who is a fourth grade Northfield Elementary student. Matt said he was in awe of the support.
"I never expected something so beautiful as it is," Matt said. "It amazes me someone can do something so nice like this. It helps us get through such a crazy thing in our lives."
Tessa's mom Tina, was at the hospital with Tessa during the event but took to Facebook Saturday evening and posted "We are so lucky and proud to live in such a supportive community and have amazing family and friends! We are forever grateful for you all. Thank you to all the sponsors and volunteers that helped make this day happen. Tessa was not in a great place this morning, and had a painful bath ... but after that mess she was able to relax and I was able to show her the pictures and video's that you all have sent. She looked up at me as said 'wow that was all for me?'
"She is going to need all the support and love we can give her. She has a long road ahead of her and I have no doubt that this community will all stand with her and help her in the years to come."
One walker Susan Harp of Northfield Center said her son, Gabe, goes to school with Tessa's older brother Tyler and that's why she attended the event.
"It's amazing to see all these people here, even with the rain," Harp said. "It really shows we're one big family."
Jennifer Simmons, another walker from Northfield Center echoed Harp's remarks. She said she is neighbors with the Puma family and their kids go to school together as well.
"We live in a wonderful community," Simmons said. "Three years ago my son was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and the community came together for us. We are very blessed."
Jennifer Stalzer, a community member, who alongside Alicia Reville and Melissa Kaminski organized the event said more than 50 area businesses donated to or helped sponsor the event which set out to raise $10,000 for the Puma family.
Kaminski said they "smashed that goal." Stalzer confirmed to The News Leader April 3 the event raised just under $25,000 all of which is being donated straight to the family for medical expenses.
"What's more is because of everybody's amazing support and donations, we were able to put this event on for less than $1,000," she said.
Overall she said the event was "amazing."
"It's such a beautiful thing to watch everybody come together to show their love and support for Tessa," she said.
Despite chilly temperatures occasional drizzling rain and fog, the 5k was completed before the skies opened up during the raffle winner announcements.
"It seems like everyone still had a great time," Stalzer said. "It was awesome to see that the 50/50 winner donated her winnings back to the cause."
In addition to those who participated in the 5k, more than 50 volunteers, safety forces showed their support. Hot dogs were sold in the Sagamore Hills Fire substation, which also housed a bounce castle for children. Also near the station, Summit County SWAT had vehicles set up as well as Summit County Sheriff's D.A.R.E. truck, fire trucks, and police vehicles. Disney princesses posed for photos under the shelter where runners could find more refreshments and a bake sale.
Local community member, former NFL Player, three-time Super Bowl winner, and radio host for WKNR AM 850 Je'Rod Cherry emceed the event. Cleveland Cavalier girls along with the Cavs Scream Team cheered runners/walkers on along the route with the superheroes.
Stalzer said she is grateful for the turnout and wanted to thank Heidi Yanok for helping with press releases, booking Cherry, the Cavs scream team and Spirit squad, superheroes, and coordinating media appearances.
Another fundraiser #TESSASTRONG is scheduled for June 11 from 2 to 6 p.m. at the VFW Post. There will be grand prizes, booze bucket, reverse raffle, 50/50 and Chinese auction. This will be a kid-friendly event with a magician, balloon maker, animals and even Batman and Ariel will be in attendance too.
Family friend Sheila Dougherty, who is organizing the fundraiser with a group of community members said they are all sent on donations for the event but are collecting gas gift cards to help the Pumas with the expense of transportation to and from Akron everyday, as well as Walmart and Giant Eagle gift cards to help with groceries.
For ticket information, volunteering or to follow updates visit #TESSASTRONG on Facebook events.
Anyone looking to donate funds to the family can do so by visiting www.youcaring.com/tessapuma-789786.
Briana Barker: 330-541-9432