San Bruno holds own Batkid-style adventure for two boys 

click to enlarge Nico Castro
  • Brendan P. Bartholomew/Special to the S.f. Examiner
  • Nico Castro aka Batman, left, and Cole Baker aka Harry Potter take a breather after a busy day fighting crime around San Bruno on March 22.
Taking a cue from the Batkid event that captured San Francisco’s heart in November, grass-roots organizers in San Bruno have staged a similar celebration for two young boys whose lives were affected by cancer.

Unlike the original Batkid event for Miles Scott, who is in remission from leukemia, San Bruno’s version March 22 didn’t have thousands of participants, Make-A-Wish Foundation funding or a pair of Lamborghini Batmobiles. But what the honorees did receive were an old Chevy convertible with Batman logos, hundreds of cheering supporters, a new villain to fight and a little help from Superman.

The event was the idea of cancer survivor Laura Davis, committee chairwoman of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in San Bruno, who said she wanted to honor the bravery 7-year-old Nico Castro and 8-year-old Cole Baker embodied in their fights with cancer.

Nico’s morning began when he was asked to don a Batman costume and take a ride in a chauffer-driven, Batman-themed classic Chevy loaned by local resident Rich McKenna. Meanwhile, Cole, whose favorite hero is Harry Potter, was awakened with the request that he put on a quidditch robe and get into a Porsche Panamera loaned by Rector Motor Car Company of Burlingame.

The two boys, who hadn’t previously met, were driven to the San Bruno Senior Center, where they were greeted by hundreds of cheering supporters. The cheers turned into boos when — in a scene similar to what Batkid faced — a senior citizen was robbed by Bruno the Bandit, a villain created for the event and enthusiastically played by martial arts teacher Peter Johnson.

Opening his shirt to reveal the Superman logo on his chest, Clark Kent, played by 17-year-old cancer survivor Sammy Rantisi, encouraged the young heroes to confront the villain. A wave of Harry Potter’s wand rendered Bruno the Bandit temporarily frozen, but it wasn’t long before he escaped.

As in San Francisco, the staged hero adventure was played out at various locations around town. When the caped crusader and his robed ally arrived at the Capuchino High School baseball field, they found their nemesis using a bullhorn to verbally abuse the school’s baseball team. The heroes chased the bandit off, but not before he stole a base — literally.

The last act was played out on another baseball diamond at San Bruno City Park. There, things got personal when the crime-fighters found their own sisters tied up in the middle of the field. With Superman’s help, they again defeated Bruno the Bandit, freeing the distressed damsels and humiliating the villain by tying him up with the very rope he’d used on his young hostages.

The nabbed foe apologized to the youngsters for the trouble he’d caused, but vowed revenge as he was loaded into the back of a police car. County Supervisor Dave Pine quipped that the bandit had been such a problem for the San Bruno Police Department that they’d been forced to call the county for help.

Thanks to surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, Nico is in cancer remission. His father, Raul Castro, said his son’s brain cancer was diagnosed after he complained of a headache. He said he’s glad to share Nico’s story because he wants parents to be aware of cancer’s symptoms, which can include headaches. Cole’s father, Jim Baker, said that although his son is still battling neuroblastoma, his doctors say he’s responding well to his surgery and treatment.

Davis said she hopes people will be inspired to create similar adventures for other children fighting cancer. An American Cancer Society 24-hour Relay for Life event, which raises funds for cancer research, is scheduled April 26 in San Bruno. For more information, visit this website.

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