Cancer stresses, but Breckenridge blesses |

Cancer stresses, but Breckenridge blesses

Reid Williams
Ten-year-old Mitchell Kinney discusses strategy with his father, Tim, before diving into a game of Ultimate Stratego at Beaver Run in Breckenridge Saturday. Children's Hospital doctors discovered Mitchell had a tumor in June, and Saturday, the Fort Collins boy and his family relaxed with families of other children diagnosed with cancer.

BRECKENRIDGE – Hurtling down the trough that is the alpine slide at Breckenridge Ski Resort’s Peak 8 fun park, one can lose the sense of self. There is only the wind luffing hair and cheek, the track stretching inevitably forward down the hill and the electricity in unconscious nerve that keeps a hand on the sled’s single brake and sounds a lot like metal scraping on concrete.

That could be why everyone who gets off the alpine slide at the base area wears the same smile. The exhilaration, the sensation, the simple pleasure of gravity-powered diversion manifest in an unmistakable grin. But Saturday, this fun meant something extra to about 125 family members and supporters known as Robby’s Friends.

The Denver-based nonprofit links the families of children diagnosed with cancer. Each year for the past 14, the group has traveled to Breckenridge to relax, play and make memories – a welcome respite from doctors, tests and treatments, not to mention the stress of everyday life.

“Robby thought there wasn’t enough fun things to do for kids with cancer,” said Vicky Sternicki, president of Robby’s Friends.

Robby Ferrufino, claimed by cancer in 1989 at the age of 10, was known for giving away gifts brought to him at Children’s Hospital in Denver. Ferrufino found escape with a group called Sunshine Kids that took him and others to events such as Denver Broncos games. After he died, his family created a memorial fund and the group that bears his name.

Sternicki’s own son, Jerron, died of cancer in 1996, and her entire family remains involved in the organization.

“It’s really a support system,” she said. “It’s extremely stressful. Cancer doesn’t just affect the child. Parents usually don’t stray far from their medical providers, and most of them don’t realize they really need a break.”

The group finds new families to help through Children’s Hospital. Littleton mother of four Janine Valdez said Robby’s Friends contacted her in June. Last December, her 5-year-old son Derek was diagnosed with leukemia. In addition to visiting Breckenridge, the Valdez family also joined the group for a trip to Water World – a water park near Denver – and looks forward to Halloween and Christmas parties, trips to sporting events and other reunions.

“The contact has been really nice,” Valdez said of meeting other families in similar straits. “The families have already been through a lot of these trials and are there if we have questions.”

Patrick Miklos began volunteering with Robby’s Friends four years ago, even though he has no children yet. He learned about the group when he met his wife, Sarah, who learned about the group after her brother was diagnosed with cancer. Miklos was helping out Saturday any way he could – watching babies and taking kids for rides on the alpine slide. Saturday night, he and the other volunteers supervised the children in games and swimming while their parents enjoyed a night off.

“It’s fun just to help,” Miklos said.

The group relies heavily on volunteers like Miklos, and generous donors. Sternicki said the organization feels especially indebted to Breckenridge icons such as restaurateur Dick Carleton and the homeowners of the Beaver Run condos, who donate lodging for families. The list of benefactors was long enough to fill a full-page thank you advertisement in the Summit Daily News.

“Every family has two to four volunteers assigned to it,” Sternicki said. “We wouldn’t be able to do this without them. And it means a lot. Not all of these kids are going to make it – that’s the heart-wrenching part of it. We have to make these memories.”

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or

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