Before crushing that turkey on Thanksgiving, why not crush the pavement and burn a few calories beforehand? And what better way to celebrate Thanksgiving than doing something for a good cause? On Thursday, November 24, the Rockaway Track Club is hosting its annual Turkey Trot 5K and this year, it’s being held in honor of a very special boy, who for the past two years, has been crushing cancer—Jimmy O’Neill.
On Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 24, all are welcome to join in this fun run on the boardwalk. Day-of registration begins at 8 a.m. on the boardwalk at Beach 126th Street, until 9 a.m. The run kicks off at 9:30 a.m. on the boardwalk from Beach 126th to Beach 97th and back. For those who want a shorter course, there will also be a one-mile run/walk from Beach 126th to Beach 116th and back. All participants, while supplies last, will be given a special Jimmy “The Crusher” O’Neill t-shirt. Proceeds from the run go toward supporting the battle against childhood cancer, and it’s all in honor of a local boy who is facing that battle himself.
In May 2021, then eight-year-old Jimmy O’Neill was diagnosed with Wilm’s Tumor, a rare kidney cancer that primarily impacts children. In August 2021, he had surgery to remove one of his kidneys, which was paired with chemotherapy treatments through November of last year. On his ninth birthday on December 14, Jimmy had his port removed. “He received a clean bill of health, and we were all happy and just relieved and felt very blessed that he got through it,” his mom, Kerrie Culhane O’Neill said. Jimmy, who hadn’t been to school at St. Francis de Sales since May 2021, was able to return at the end of December for fifth grade.
However, in June of this year, the family received news they never wanted to hear. “Unfortunately, we received the devastating news that he had a reoccurrence in June. That’s when the tumor had returned in the exact same spot as it was previously,” Kerrie O’Neill said. “So he again had to start chemo treatments for the second time and had additional surgery in August to remove the tumor and this time around, we went through radiation as well in September of this year, to really address the reoccurrence,” she said. Jimmy has been receiving treatments through Cohen’s Children’s Hospital. “The doctors and nurses there have been amazing, especially during such a difficult time,” she said.
Among his treatments, Jimmy has to go through seven cycles of chemotherapy this time around, which ranges from three days a week of inpatient treatment to five days a week of outpatient treatment. “We have another three cycles of treatment to go, and we pray and have faith that this will be it and he will be done with this by January, God willing,” she said. “Hopefully he can return to school sometime at the end of January or beginning of February.”
But in the meantime, everyone from Jimmy’s school to family, friends and the Rockaway/ Breezy Point/ Broad Channel communities, have been showing support for the family, and showing Jimmy that he isn’t in this alone.
Until his diagnosis, Jimmy was an active kid, playing soccer, basketball, baseball and swimming for St. Francis. And while he can’t be on the field right now, his teammates have made sure he’s part of the game. Just last week, the fifth-grade girls’ basketball team at St. Francis wore headbands saying “Jimmy Strong” while they played. Last year, friends made Jimmy “The Crusher” O’Neill wristbands to show support and the soccer team had a patch made with a soccer ball and Jimmy’s number, 33, to add to their jerseys. His soccer team even went on to win the championship, even though their goalie was on the sidelines, but they made sure to dedicate the win to him and give him an award. His baseball team also went on to win this spring, and even though Jimmy couldn’t make it to the final game because of this reoccurrence, a friend told him, “Jimmy, it was a great game, but it wasn’t the same without you.”
It is those small victories, plus the community coming out strong to help the family with things like picking up laundry, providing gift cards for dinner, giving donations and more, that have helped the family through this unimaginably difficult time. “It’s just been amazing. Anything to boost our spirits, people have done. Through this ordeal, we’ve been very blessed and humbled by the unbelievable kindness we’ve received from family and friends and we’re very grateful for all of it. We can’t thank people enough,” Kerrie O’Neill said.
That gratitude also radiates through Jimmy, who each night in his prayers, thanks those who have been there for him. “I’ve had some difficult times and I’m getting through it. I can be mad sometimes and nice sometimes and I can do some things and some things I can’t, but I’m really appreciative for everybody who’s been so nice and kind to me over the past two years,” Jimmy O’Neill said. “I always, in my prayers, thank everybody who has been so kind to me. I’m so grateful and I cannot thank them enough because that’s what’s been getting me through this tough time. I’m lucky to live in Rockaway and have such a great community.”
On Thanksgiving, the community is expected to come through once again for the Turkey Trot 5K in Jimmy’s name. Some of Jimmy’s friends and family will be participating , and as long as Jimmy’s counts are okay for the week, he’ll be on the sidelines cheering everyone on. “It’s crazy how many people have signed up and I’m so grateful that people are doing this because I didn’t think there would be that many people but there’s a very good amount and I’m thankful they’re doing it for me,” Jimmy O’Neill said. “It means a lot and I really appreciate that.”
“It’s great for Jimmy to get the support, but also, it’s awesome that this is going to such a great cause and hopefully more kids don’t have to go through something like this,” Kerrie O’Neill said.
For more details or to pre-register for the Jimmy “The Crusher” O’Neill Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day, see: RockawayTC.org