From brain tumors to snowboards, Michigan family visiting Vail through Kids Wish Network |

From brain tumors to snowboards, Michigan family visiting Vail through Kids Wish Network

Ainsworth explains to Quentin the basics on how to approach learning how to snowboard during his private lesson on Sunday in Vail.
Chris Dillmann | |

VAIL — It’s a long way from brain tumors to snowboards, but 16-year-old Quentin Zapata is thrilled to take those steps.

Quentin Zapata and his family are in Vail through the work of the Kids Wish Network, a national children’s charity that grants wishes to kids 3-18 years old with major medical issues.

Those issues are behind him, and so is just about everything remotely resembling fear. When we caught up with him, Peter Smith with Ski Butlers was fitting Quentin with boots and snowboard Sunday morning in the lobby of The Lodge at Vail.

Quentin Zapata and his family live in Livonia, Michigan, where Quentin is a mighty fighting Stevenson High School Spartan. He was wearing a blue Stevenson T-shirt. The young man wanted to represent, and did.

I didn’t know if they had any wishes left. There are kids much worse off than me.Quentin Zapata

Snowboarding skills tend to come quickly, even quicker when you’re an athletic young man, as Quentin is. By the end of Day 1, Quentin and his brother Christian Zapata were linking turns and answering the Great American Guy Question, “How fast does it go?”

More going on

It’s right and proper that while Smith was fitting Quentin Zapata’s gear, they spent the most time fussing with his helmet — or brain bucket as they’re sometimes called. Quentin Zapata survived a brain tumor.

Quentin Zapata was in the sixth-grade and could hear water in his ears. At first, his parents thought he was trying to get out of going to school. At that time, he wasn’t a big fan of school and it didn’t take much for him to try to beg out of it.

At first his parents, Alexsa and Rolando Zapata, thought it might be seasonal allergies. It didn’t take long for them to realize there was more going on, so they took him for a CAT scan at one of their local hospitals. Those doctors sent him to the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, where doctors confirmed Quentin Zapata had a brain tumor and water trapped in his head.

“That was the water I could hear, and the brain tumor was the headaches I was getting,” Quentin Zapata said. “That’s how we figured it out.”

It’s called posterior fossa ependymoma and you have it for life, but the tumors go away. Quentin Zapata’s did, and have stayed away.

“My parents and my siblings were pretty strong though the whole thing. They helped me not to be scared. They told me not to worry, that it wouldn’t be an issue, that I’d get through it. As long as I had them, I knew everything would be fine,” Quentin Zapata said.

Rolando Zapata serves in the U.S. military. By the time doctors figured it all out, he was deployed. The surgery was held for a few days so that Rolando Zapata could be at his son’s side.

“He’s a strong young man. He was the one who had to get through it. I didn’t see him shed a tear through the whole process. That’s what got me and his mom through it,” Rolando Zapata said.

One surgery removed the tumor on Quentin Zapata’s brain.

“One is enough,” Quentin Zapata said.

Treatment involved radiation for five days a week for more than a month. His brain tumor is in remission.

Six weeks later, Quentin Zapata was back to school and happy to be there.

Kids Wish Network

Quentin’s sister Amanda Zapata is a junior at Central Michigan University and did a project about organizations such as the Kids Wish Network. She told her kid brother about it, and Quentin Zapata started making phone calls.

“It was because of my sister that I took so much initiative,” Quentin Zapata said.

He called the Kids Wish Network. He didn’t know if he was eligible. He was, they told him.

“I didn’t know if there was a deadline, or if they had any wishes left. There are kids much worse off than me,” Quentin Zapata said.

The Kids Wish Network people called back a couple of months later, and said “probably.” They called back to say they could, and again to tell the family to pack their bags because they were going to Vail.

“For the last year and a half they’ve been helping me get to the place I want to be, which is Vail, Colorado,” Quentin Zapata said.

The thrill of helping a wish come true never gets old, said Anna Lanzatella, executive director for Kids Wish Network.

“It means so much for our Wish Kids and their families to get ‘a break’ from their illness, especially when we can grant a wish in beautiful Vail, Colorado,” Lanzatella said. “We are so pleased to work with businesses like Vail Resorts who can make such an impact in a sick child’s life.”

The Zapata clan was originally supposed to come in early December. The crowds were big, the snow was bad and the trip was postponed for a few weeks. They’re here now, after a series of storms dropped a season’s worth of snow. The slopes are nearly perfect and the weather is spectacular.

Basically, all they had to remember was socks. Smith with Ski Butlers met the family in the lobby of The Lodge at Vail early Sunday morning with all of their gear and — you guessed it — better socks.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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