Charlie Capalbo is not just a member of the Fairfield community; he is a friend, a Fairfield Stag and a pillar of strength. His fight with cancer began back in 2017, and most recently he’s facing his third and most arduous diagnosis yet.
There are many factors which make this third round unique from the two prior, one of which being COVID-19. Charlie described the experience as being a bit harder this time around since his friends aren’t able to come to Boston Children’s hospital where he is receiving treatment due to visitation restrictions. However, his friends have found ways of making it work by staying connected through facetiming, driving up and making signs for Charlie to look at out of his window.
“It is tough to stay connected during these times,” said Charlie, so these gestures are important.
Another circumstance which makes this bout different than those in the past has to do with his younger brother Will’s life-changing bone marrow donation which was made in February of 2019. Charlie said that the transplant has made him feel stronger and his treatment feel more bearable.
The Fairfield community has banded together behind Charlie in a number of ways. Made obvious by the numerous hockey sticks resting outside the doors of local homes, or the generous donations made to a Go Fund Me created to support the Capalbo family. The most visible showing of unity, however, could arguably be here at Fairfield University.
The outpouring of student support has caused the University to want to take it a step further, and create a social media takeover open for anyone to participate in. The Capalbo Challenge was started by Fairfield University to show Capalbo that he is anything but alone in this battle.
The rules are simple: Accept the challenge within 22 hours, take a video doing 22 pushups, nominate two others and upload the video to Tik Tok, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Twenty-two is a nod to Capalbo’s age, and challenges everyone nominated to channel the strength that Capalbo has shown throughout this fight.
Although this challenge was started without Capalbo’s knowledge, he wasn’t shocked that the school would do something like this.
“I was surprised, but at the same time I wasn’t surprised just because of the mentality of the school and all of my friends. I wasn’t surprised that the school had my back and I was at a loss for words for what to say when I saw it,” said Capalbo about the Capalbo Challenge.
He described how the inspiration and motivation that people get from him is something he feels is reciprocated. “It goes both ways,” Charlie said. “Watching them doing those 22 pushups for me and supporting me really helps me as well.”
The challenge was kicked off by the Fairfield University club hockey team, in solidarity with their fellow hockey brother, and has reached a variety of groups spanning from sports like baseball, women’s soccer and rugby to groups on campus like the Inter-Residential Housing Association, the Fairfield University Student Association and the Catholic Student Association. Most notably, President Mark R. Nemec PhD and his wife Suzy Nemec took part.
“It just really shows that the entire school has my back and it’s a really special feeling when you’re in here and I still feel connected to everybody,” Charlie remarked about the Nemecs’ participation. “Fairfield U is an awesome school. They’re showing it now and they show it all the time.”
Vinny Gadioma and Tobenna Ugwu, FUSA President and Vice President, respectively, nominated President Nemec on FUSA’s behalf.
“We heard about the Capalbo Challenge through Instagram, and we thought participating would be a great way to show support for our fellow classmate. Charlie, all of us on FUSA are rooting for you, and we know you’ll pull through,” said Ugwu.
Gadioma shared similar sentiments, saying, “The Capalbo Challenge is a great way for the Fairfield community to unite and show our support for Charlie. We hope Charlie knows that the Fairfield and FUSA community will always have his back.”
“Fairfield University is proud to rally behind Charlie as he undergoes treatment. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and the entire Capalbo family,” read a statement made by the University. “The 22 push-up challenge has been a great way for our students and community to show Charlie through social media how Stag Country has come together to support #CapalboStrong.”
In addition to the Capalbo Challenge, the school has showed up in as many ways as possible to send the message of togetherness to Charlie. Fairfield’s Students for St. Baldrick’s club has promised to dedicate this year’s Brave the Shave event, which will take place on March 27, to Charlie.
All over campus, there are people dressed in “Capalbo Strong” hoodies and joggers, or donning freshly-shaved heads like their friend Charlie. This merchandise was launched by The Two Oh Three, a Connecticut local lifestyle brand which has partnered with Charlie to make a line featuring the logo of his charity organization, “Capalbo Crushes Cancer”.
“We created a line of custom 203 x Capalbo Strong gear to help raise funds directly for Charlie’s medical expenses,” said The Two Oh Three’s website. Charlie, his family and his girlfriend, Peyton Siegel, worked with the company’s founders Tory and Roscoe to customize the collection, with an updated logo.
According to Charlie, the Westport business is experiencing a surge in orders unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.“It goes to show how supported I really am,” he said.
Despite the uphill journey that Charlie has embarked upon, a hallmark of his fighting spirit is his remarkable positivity. He said, “It’s easy to drop your head a little bit, but when you see all of this positivity that everybody is putting forward and giving to me, it’s really hard to not take on that positivity and use it for yourself.”
He feeds off of the positive energy around him, especially from family. “I always tell people laughing and smiling are two of the most important things, even on the worst days. That’s one thing my dad and I have always had, especially,” said Charlie.
“The pushup challenge, my friends, random people buying our clothes- it shows how awesome the school is and how it’s something I can’t wait to come back to,” he said.
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