Hundreds turn out for Ali’s celebrationTransferring from limo to wheelchair, Ali Borgen was accompanied down a red carpet at the Ramada Inn by her mother, Karen, glamorous in a pink feather boa, and her father, Rich, head painted swamp green and studded with bolts: a more than passable Shrek.
By: Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald
To raucous cheers and swarming scores of cell-phone paparazzi, Ali Borgen arrived at her “Celebration of a Lifetime” Sunday.
Transferring from limo to wheelchair, she was accompanied down a red carpet at the Ramada Inn by her mother, Karen, glamorous in a pink feather boa, and her father, Rich, head painted swamp green and studded with bolts: a more than passable Shrek.
Her grandfather wore dreadlocks, reportedly a first for him.
Ali came as Pippi Longstocking, freckle-faced and streaming long red pigtails, and she beamed at the sight of so many other children who had come to her party as movie stars and cartoon characters, as princesses and football players, as a 3-foot-tall Marine in full dress uniform and as a nattily outfitted young race car driver.
It was Halloween, Christmas, a birthday and New Year’s all wrapped together, a wish come true for the 14-year-old Grand Forks girl who has fought leukemia for four years and become a symbol of spirit and courage to many.
Twice, doctors believed they had chased the cancer cells from her young body, most recently with a bone marrow transplant at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. But the leukemia returned, and Ali came home this week to enter hospice care.
But her fight continues.
“I want a party,” she told her parents, a noisy, crowded celebration of life that also would be a defiant rally against childhood cancer so someday no other kids would have to struggle the way she has through so much pain and disappointment.
A silent auction, donations and other activities at the party raised about $10,400 for research. In addition, more than $1,400 had been donated to Children’s Cancer Research Fund in Ali’s name by Sunday evening (www.childrenscancer.org).
“She’s been waiting for this a long time,” Karen Borgen said, struggling to contain her emotions after her daughter’s grand entrance.
“The idea of this party has kept her going,” Rich Borgen added.
He watched as his daughter painted henna tattoos on the hands of friends and children she was meeting for the first time. Among the people crowding around were children who have survived cancer, parents of children who have survived cancer, and a few parents of children lost to cancer.
“She has been planning for this all the time we’ve been home,” her father said.
“It’s been fun to watch. She’s so happy.”
Grace and smiles
Ali was serenaded by boys and girls of the Grand Cities Children’s Chorus, who enveloped her — a former member of the chorus — after a “Grease” medley and “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” Later, with local entertainers Lee S. Barnum, Jack Hammen and Greg Norman providing backup, she held a microphone, picked at a guitar set in her lap and led the band in several verses of an old standard.
They sang “Amazing Grace.”
Members of the UND women’s basketball team, hockey players from Ali’s schools and others brought gifts. There were toss games and treats and balloons, smiley cookies and the popcorn machine from the Empire Theater.
All the while, a projector cast pictures on a wall, celebrating a lifetime: Ali playing with her dog, Ali boating and swimming, Ali dressing up and dancing; Ali snuggling with stuffed animals, Ali on a bike, Ali playing a clarinet.
More images: Ali with her mother, her father, her brother Dylan, her grandparents; Ali floating through air on a swing, climbing a tree, posing by a brightly decorated Christmas tree.
Ali sorting pills and syringes, Ali encased in a back brace, Ali in a radiation mask; Ali with lustrous hair, Ali resplendent in skull-covering hats, Ali in colorful wraparound bandanas.
In all of the pictures, before she could spell or pronounce leukemia and after she well understood what it meant, what it could mean, Ali is smiling.
Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.