By JESSICA A. BOTELHO
Michael Zuller said nothing could ever fill the void in his heart created by the sudden death of his daughter, Elanna, who died in a car crash Aug. 31, 2011.
To remember her, as well as better the lives of others, he and his wife, Holly, founded the Elanna L. Zuller Memorial Sports Fund shortly after her passing. Since establishing the fund, they have raised and donated nearly $10,000 to local causes they are confident Elanna would have approved of.
“I want to keep my daughter’s name alive, but I also want to do some nice things for the community,” Zuller said. “She would think this is fantastic to raise money and give it to worthy causes.”
He hopes to raise more funds this Saturday at the second annual Elanna L. Zuller Bike Run, with kick stands up at 1 p.m. The run will start at Biki’s Gathering Spot at 2077 West Shore Road.
From there, participants will head to Sticks Tavern at 417 Putnam Pike in Chepachet, then to Dan’s Place at 880 Victory Highway in West Greenwich, and back to Biki’s at about 5 p.m.
Last year, 105 bikes took part. This year, guests will be treated to a BBQ dinner, plus live entertainment at Biki’s. Guitarists Mike Flanagan and Tim Sullivan will perform an acoustic set to begin the evening, followed by performances from bands such as Jam Sandwich, as well as All In.
A raffle will also be held, with items including gift certificates to local restaurants and retailers, plus gift baskets. At least 25 items were donated, totaling $1,000.
For Zuller, the support from family, friends and the community is greatly appreciated.
“It’s nice to know people care,” he said. “They help me do some good in her name.”
Elanna, who was a high honors student and member of the debate team, would have graduated from Pilgrim High School this year. She also excelled in sports like soccer and lacrosse.
That’s why the Zullers aim to help educational and sports-based organizations. During the last year and a half, they’ve made donations through the Sport’s Fund to Pilgrim High School Athletics, as well as the Pilgrim mock trial team, Warwick Fire Fighter Soccer Club, Project Goal, Rhode Island Sports Heroes, and most recently the George Schmeider Memorial Association.
Michael said he and Holly are aware of the fact that there is a stigma associated with them as the family who lost their daughter, but they don’t let it bother them.
“It is what it is,” he said. “I’m that man and we are that family, but hopefully they say, ‘Hey, that’s that family that does great things for others.’”
He also said it isn’t easy going on without Elanna. While each day is a struggle, holidays are particularly hard. July 13th would have been her 18th birthday, and another difficult day is quickly approaching: the anniversary of her death.
“Two years coming up and it seems like yesterday,” Zuller said. “But I’m still here. I’m still functioning and making a living.”
Zuller, who owns and operates MZ Financial, turns to his wife and children, Jacob, 14, and Isabella, 7, for comfort. He often reflects on his most favorite memories of Elanna, whether it’s her countless talents or even the way she looked.
“She had beautiful, long, curly hair,” he said. “She had a smile that could light up a room. She was a happy girl who was full of life.”
To help the Zullers pay tribute to Elanna and continue to better the community, tickets to the event can be purchased at Biki’s before Saturday or at the door the day of the run. Tickets are $15 each.
Generous sponsors include: MZ Financial, Inc.; Caribbean Tan; Devo Auto Repair; SNL Masonry; TK Concrete; Grow With Us; West Shore Collision; GQ Auto Salon; Vintage Restaurant; Biki’s Gathering Spot; Kevin’s Auto Service; Kerri Stowik Photography; Capital Home Improvement; Mary Jane’s Salon; Spring Green Auto Body; Meticulous Construction; Blue Grotto; Midnight Run Couriers; Burns Roofing; and Tax Refund Express.