Wherever there’s a need, you’ll most likely find Johnston’s Arakelian family.
That’s especially true when tragedy strikes so close to their home.
“When we heard the news about Gary Balletto, our hearts were broken!” George and Gina Sabitoni-Arakelian exclaimed. “We were crushed … shocked; we were filled with sadness and our prayers went out to Gary and his family. This is awful; we need to help … this sort of tragedy hurt lots of people.”
This past July, Gary “Tiger” Balletto, a prized professional boxer and native Rhode Islander, had a tragic accident in his backyard while playing with his youngest son, Aiden, when a pull-up exercise bar broke and sent Balletto crashing to the ground.
“He broke his neck in six places and suffered a spinal cord injury,” said George Arakelian. “He was taken to Rhode Island Hospital where he had surgery for seven hours. He remained there for the next five weeks.”
That, though, was just the beginning of what Gina Sabitoni-Arakelin said “is the biggest fight of Gary’s young life.”
For the next eight weeks, Balletto went through intense rehabilitation at Spaulding Rehabilitation in Boston.
Although Balletto recently returned to his home in Cranston, he faces another uphill fight, which comes in the form of mounting hospital bills.
And that’s why the Arakelians have joined Tiger’s Corner, or Team Balletto, to help “a loving family man who always helped people overcome such huge obstacles like the one he now faces.”
“From the first time George and I visited Gary at Rhode Island Hospital, we wanted to do something to elevate the struggles he now faces,” Gina-Sabitoni Arakelian said. “He’s such a compassionate and ambitious human being who is motivated by the love for his family. His top priority has always been helping people and that’s why we’ve joined Tiger’s Corner.”
The Arakelians came up with an idea to have bracelets that read “In Tiger’s Corner-Team Balletto” made. And as a show of support, the Johnston couple purchased 2,000 bracelets then pitched a canopy and manned that station for all three days of the recent Columbus Day Festival on Providence’s Federal Hill.
The Arakelians did so with their children, George III and Gianna, and sold those bracelets for a minimum donation of $5 each.
“We’re hoping to raise $10,000 by selling the bracelets,” George Arakelian said. “Although we’re not near our goal, a lot of people came to our booth and purchased the bracelets. And that enabled us to move closer to our goal.”
Throughout their stay at the Columbus Festival, the Arakelians listened to stories from many people who are also saddened by the fight of rehabilitation and mounting medical bills that Balletto faces. However, as George Arakelian sternly stated: “The word is getting out about this terrible tragedy and people are really starting to come forward.”
People are not only purchasing the bracelets, they’re buying tickets for a “Night for the Tiger” that will be held on Thursday, Nov. 7 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence.
“It’s an evening in support and honor of Gary Balletto,” George Arakelian explained. “General admission tickets are $40 and VIP seating is $100. The event will be a night of music provided by Cover to Cover and Mike Dutra, who does a lot of Frank Sinatra. There will also be a silent auction … we’re selling tickets, too.”
Tickets for the event are on sale at Dunkin’ Donuts Center, Ticketmaster and A Custom Car Stereo, located at 1174 Atwood Avenue in Johnston, or by calling 946-0010.
“We’re hoping that Nov. 7 will be huge for Gary and his family,” George Arakelian said. “It’s just awful seeing a 38-year-old retired professional boxer in this condition. Our prayers are with Gary and his family and we urge everyone and anyone to also come forward and help.”
During his pro boxing career, Balletto, who turned pro just 10 days before his 21st birthday, compiled a 31-3-2 record with 26 knockouts. He won three titles: USBK, EBA and IBU world lightweight title. He starred in the reality show “The Contender” and appeared on national television 12 times.
In 2008 he appeared at IFC Theater in New York to promote a feature documentary “Sweet Dreams,” which told the story of his life and efforts to unionize the sport of boxing. He’s also a contractor and owner of Balletto Construction and Balletto’s Boxing Gym.
Balletto resides in Cranston with his high school sweetheart and wife Christina. The Ballettos have three children, Gary Jr., Hailey and Aiden, who, like the Arakelians and many of his fans and followers, hopes, “That Gary Balletto will some day be able to walk again.”