OLD TAPPAN, N.J. – More than 50 people will compete in the Michael LaViola Strongman Challenge in honor of the late Old Tappan high school athlete.
“We do this every year to remember Michael and be positive and give back,” said Mike LaViola, Michael’s father. His son succumbed to cancer in 2008 at age 20.
The ninth annual challenge, to take place June 17 at Varsity House Gym in Orangeburg, is expected to draw more than 400 spectators. It will feature three events: Overhead Log Press, Tractor Tire Flip/ Farmers Walk Medley, and a Heavy Sandbag Carry.
The challenge raises money for the Michael LaViola Foundation to fund two scholarships for graduating students of Northern Valley Regional High School at Old Tappan, his alma mater. Proceeds also benefit research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on sarcomas, the type of cancer that took his life.
The fact that it’s a strongman competition is no accident. Michael LaViola was a varsity football player at the high school. He also was strong in more ways than one.
“Sarcoma is an orphan cancer. It doesn’t get funding,” said the elder LaViola. “Michael’s doctor was Dr. Melinda Merchant, a pediatric research oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. After he passed away, she went to the NIH to do sarcoma research.”
Michael LaViola suffered with synovial sarcoma, one of the most rare types of soft tissue cancer. It originated in his right foot as a tumor, his father explained. He was unaware of it until it started to protrude.
While skiing at Christmastime in his senior year at high school, his foot hurt him in his ski boot. By the time the cancer was diagnosed, it had metastasized to his lungs.
LaViola’s treatment included a below-the-knee amputation, several thoracotomies, and a lot of chemo and radiation.
“Yet he did walk up with his class and in June got his diploma,” LaViola said.
After that, his son learned how to drive with a prosthesis and attended Bergen Community College between treatments.
“Michael was quite a guy,” his father said. “He fought very, very hard.”
For more information, visit http://michaellaviolafoundation.org and https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Michael-LaViola-Foundation/59380107204 .