Melinda DelFratte is your typical 62-year-old Hilltop woman who likes to swim, bike, and run.
Except his devotion to the sport. — and his sister — got him an Emmy.
The plucky, short-haired Columbus resident has the award resting nonchalantly on her piano, but even she is smitten by the piece of hardware she received in October at the 64th annual New York Emmy Awards.
“It’s surreal,” DelFratte said. “To think that I am actually an Emmy winner is just amazing. It’s still even hard to wrap my brain.”
She was one of two subjects involved in a documentary called “500+ The trip of a lifetime” which was released in 2019. The film, available on YouTube, features DelFratte participating in the Empire State Race, a 540-mile bike ride from New York City to Niagara Falls, New York, which raises money for cancer research, and describes the life of his sister’s two-stage battle against the disease.
The nearly 12-minute film won an Emmy for full length human interest documentary (more than 10 minutes).
Now she intends to use experience as inspiration to take things a step further and become an advocate for people to live more active lives.
“If I could change a person’s mind to live a healthier lifestyle, then it would all be worth it,” he said.
A two-stage battle against cancer for DelFratte’s sister
DelFratte is from Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, about 30 minutes from Youngstown. She grew up a tomboy, the opposite of her younger sister Melissa, who liked makeup, nice clothes, and high heels.
“She was all fluff,” DelFratte said. “We couldn’t have been more opposite.”
When her sister was 12 years old, she fell playing basketball and began to hemorrhage. A local hospital diagnosed her with rhabdomyosarcoma of the uterus, a rare type of cancer that forms in the soft tissues. In 1974, the diagnosis was almost the equivalent of a death sentence, DelFratte said.
Her sister went to Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, a cancer research and treatment center in Buffalo, New York, for a hysterectomy.
“I remember my sister crying only once when that happened,” DelFratte said. “She was much tougher than me.”
Despite the odds, her sister beat cancer as a child and became a cheerleader in high school and later married.
However, when Melissa Krivicich turned 47, she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. She had a double mastectomy and underwent radiation and chemotherapy. The cancer spread rapidly to his lymph nodes and her skin.
“My sister, she suffered,” DelFratte said. “I don’t know if she could have done what she did for so long. She just kept throwing these curveballs at him.”
Krivicich died before his 50th birthday on January 22, 2011.
“Cancer runs in a family,” DelFratte said. “It affects all of you. Whether you are the one with a diagnosis or not. It’s so hard for everyone.”
Making a difference through the Empire State Ride
DelFratte, who has competed in triathlons, first participated in the Empire State Ride, a seven-day trip, in 2018 at age 58. His sister was on his mind constantly as he cycled through New York.
“You really test your mental strength,” he said. “Then I knew that I would never be the same person again (after completing the journey).”
DelFratte did the Empire State Ride again in 2021, but a lot had changed, in part because of the movie.
The documentary inspired and will continue to inspire new riders to participate in the Empire State Ride, said founder Terry Bourgeois.
“It’s a great validation of what we’re doing,” he said. “Being able to hear other people talk about it and share it that way. For me personally, it is a motivation to not stop and keep going”.
At the time of DelFratte’s second ride, “500+ The Ride of a Lifetime” had been available for a while and several people reached out and told him how his story encouraged them to ride the Empire State Ride.
“I was overwhelmed with what people were saying,” she said. “What they saw in that documentary and what they took away was different for each person I spoke to.”
DelFratte said her experiences have taught her that she has a responsibility to empathize with and celebrate people’s stories.
“Everybody has (a story), so what I found was that people want to share it with me,” he said.
DelFratte works at i am limitlesswho helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and behavioral health issues, as director of community living services for Central Ohio.
She said that she tries to help people in a very personal way. People who know her often ask her for advice on living a healthier lifestyle, and she offers what advice she can.
“I think it’s good to set goals, and here’s the thing, I tell people to set a goal that’s achievable for you,” he said. “What is attainable for me may not be attainable for you.”
This story is part of the Dispatch’s Mobile Newsroom initiative, which has visited Northland, Driving Park and the Hilltop and is now in Whitehall. Visit our reporters at the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Whitehall Branch Library and read their work at dispatch.com/mobilenewsroom, where you can also subscribe to The mobile newsroom newsletter.