Standing Up for Pediatric Care

An annual paddleboard race is healing to improve emergency medical services for the youngest patients. 

Victor and Kari Rallo on stand up paddleboardsEver since Victor and Kari Rallo’s premature twins, Jake and Jack, spent the first few weeks of their lives in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at The Unterberg Children’s Hospital at Monmouth Medical Center (MMC) 19 years ago, the hospital has had a special place in the couple’s hearts. “We have always found it to be very compassionate and caring,” says Kari.

To express their gratitude, the Rallos decided to give back to the hospital. “We felt strongly this is where we wanted to contribute,” says Victor, a wine critic, host of PBS’s Eat! Drink! Italy!, author and owner of several restaurants, including a chain of restaurants called SURF and two Mediterranean seafood restaurants in New York called Barca and Esca. For several years, the Rallos participated in “A Toast to Children’s Health,” a fund-raising event for the hospital. Five years ago, the couple decided to create a new fund-raiser. “We’re both paddleboarders, and we thought it would be fun to have a race,” says Kari. “There are already lots of 5K runs, so we thought it would be nice to do something different for the community while raising awareness of the hospital.” The result? The “WhatSUP” (SUP stands for “stand-up paddleboard”) race on the Navesink River.

The event is a natural fit for the family, which is passionate about the sport. “For us, the best part of paddleboarding is feeling like you’re a million miles away the second you step on the board and paddle out into the water,” says Kari. “It’s not only great exercise, but it’s also a great way to decompress. It’s an activity we enjoy as a family.”

A Unique Event

The race’s popularity grows every year. The first WhatSUP race attracted 20 to 25 participants, and this year, more than 100 participants were expected to enter the race, which was held on July 27. “Everyone who comes says it’s the best-run race they’ve ever been to,” says Victor.

Every year, the Rallos host a sunset sponsor party the Thursday before the race to thank their committee and sponsors for their support. On race day, Victor can be found in the water competing, while Kari pitches in where she’s needed to keep things running smoothly. The couple’s three college-aged children—Jack, Jake and Eli—are either spectators or participate in the race.

While many of the participants are from New Jersey, some travel from Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware for the five-mile event, which begins and ends at Victory Park in Rumson. “There’s also a one-mile fun race for people who just want to enjoy themselves and paddle one loop,” says Kari.

Many members of the community come out to watch the race and support the hospital. Coffee and snacks are on hand. “It’s a great event to watch,” says Kari.

Improving Access to World-Class Care

The event, which has raised more than $350,000, will leave a lasting imprint on the hospital. The funds are being used to renovate the waiting room of the Thomas & Ann Unterberg Pediatric Emergency Department, as well as a pediatric triage station and space for an additional bed. “The goals are to make the space more practical and serve more children,” says Kari. The project is slated to be completed in 2020.

“People have a lot of choices about how they’re going to support the community,” says Victor. “You need to feel like the funds raised are going to good use.” He’s confident that in this case, they are. “In many communities, we see hospitals shrinking and disappearing, but at Monmouth Medical Center, we see a hospital that’s getting better,” he continues. “The kind of care they provide, especially in pediatrics, is world-class.”

To learn about giving opportunities at Monmouth Medical Center, click here.