Rays on the Runway raise spirits and money

Published August 6 2018
Updated August 9 2018

When Kelsie Vance was in the hospital for two weeks in April, being able to think about an upcoming trip to Walt Disney World and Universal Studios helped occupy her mind and boost her spirits. The Children’s Dream Fund raised the money to pay for Kelsie’s family to go on the 6-year-old’s dream trip.

She met all the princesses—Rapunzel was her favorite. She loved the "mountains," Splash Mountain, Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

"November is when they told us about the dream and we used that to help her because she was in the hospital in November," said Nicki Vance, Kelsie’s mother. ‘Then she had to come back in April and it was getting closer to (the trip.) Her dream coordinator come up to the hospital and they talked about it. We planned and talked about it a lot."

Kelsie, who is starting first grade at Seminole Elementary School, had another thrilling experience recently when she and nine other kids with serious illnesses modeled on the runway with some Tampa Bay Rays and their wives or girlfriends.

A sold-out crowd packed the ballroom at the annual Rays on the Runway fashion show, which has raised almost $1 million to make dreams come true since 2006.

Kevin Kiermaier and his wife, Marisa, escorted Kelsie down the runway several times. The 6-year-old reported that Kevin was "the coolest" and Marisa was "very nice." When asked what made the center fielder so cool she replied: "his eyes." They are electric blue, of course.

More than 60 kids in West Central Florida are waiting to experience their dreams. Some have Cystic Fibrosis like Kelsie, while others deal with brain cancer, kidney failure, Cerebral Palsy, organ transplants or other illnesses. Their dreams range from going on a Disney cruise or trip to Hawaii to getting a playground or gaming computer.

The average dream costs $3,500. Since 1981 the Children’s Dream Fund has organized and funded more than 2,000 dreams. It expects to orchestrate more than 100 in 2018, according to Cynthia Farrell, executive director. She thanked sponsors who covered the cost of Rays on the Runway at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront, so that all proceeds from the auction go directly to the Dream Fund.

Live auction items raising thousands of dollars included half day cruises on Sailing Florida charters departing from the Vinoy Yacht Basin and Sundaze fishing and scalloping trips. Baskets of some of the Rays’ "favorite things" also went to high bidders.

Along with signed baseballs, cleats and gloves players added personal things they really like. Matt Duffy’s basket included a Fortnite book and Nestle Toll House cookies. Jacob Faria added a Lakers koozie, baby rubber duck and Dominoes to his collection. Blake Snell’s favorite things included a University of Washington baseball cap, an Air Jordan lanyard, Sour Patch candy and brown sugar Pop-Tarts. Kevin Kiermaier’s basket included Busch beer.

"I’m a Midwest guy. I grew up on cheap beer," he said. "I never change who I am."

The Kiermaiers are expecting their first child, a boy. They plan to name him Karter.

"It’s with a K so they will have the same initials," Marisa Kiermaier said.

Katherine Snow Smith can be contacted at kssmith@tampabay.com