SECAUCUS, NJ — Tickets are still available for a raffle featuring a special edition Harley Davidson signed by the cast of the hit HBO series, “The Sopranos,” as part of a fundraiser benefiting the Gary “Tiger” Balletto Foundation, whose mission is to provide assistance and resources to people suffering from spinal cord injury.
Federico Castelluccio, who played Furio on “The Sopranos” and is a native of Paterson, auctioned the 1994 Heritage Softail Harley Davidson motorcycle nearly 12 years ago with the proceeds going toward the Smile Foundation. Signed nearly 12 years ago by various cast members, including the late James Gandolfini, the bike is now in the possession of Steve Torrioni, a longtime Essex County resident who was the highest bidder.
As much of the series was filmed at Tony Soprano’s North Caldwell home and other areas throughout Essex County, the motorcycle was recently on display at the 2019 Caldwell Street Fair, organized by the Rotary Club of the Caldwells and the Kiwanis Club of Caldwell-West Essex, in order to bring awareness to the cause.
“As a lifelong resident of Essex County, I urge all Essex residents to take a chance and purchase a raffle ticket to help support this foundation and help people with paralysis,” said Torrioni. “It would be nice to have a winner from Essex County.”
The winner of the raffle will be selected at SopranosCon on Nov. 23 and Nov. 24 at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, and profits from the tickets will go directly toward the Gary Balletto Foundation.
“I’ve had the bike now for many, many years, but I was recently contacted because it’s the 20-year anniversary since ‘The Sopranos’ originated on HBO, and all the cast members are going to be at the Meadowlands for ‘SopranosCon,’” said Torrioni, owner of Prizm Construction LLC in Caldwell. “It’s a major event with 10,000 people coming who are still superfans of the show even though it’s not on TV anymore. They reached out to me because I have the motorcycle, and they thought it would be a big attraction there because it’s signed by the entire cast.”
Torrioni also spoke about the efforts of Gary “Tiger” Balletto, a world champion boxer, who was playing outdoors with his son in 2013 when he suffered a spinal cord injury and fractured six vertebrae in his neck. After undergoing hours in surgery, he was told he wouldn’t be able to walk again.
According to Balletto, life in the ring was hard, but bearable “because of the love you get from your family and the team in your corner.” In the raffle description, Balletto explains that living with spinal cord injury is hard enough as it is, and that no one should have to go through it alone.
“In a way, I was lucky,” he said. “I already had a tremendous team and network in place at the time of my injury; but a lot of people don’t have that type of support, and I saw that first-hand as I sought treatment and care for myself.”
It wasn’t until his injury that Balletto realized how few rehab facilities existed, how expensive treatment is and that “very few people suffering from spinal cord injury have the resources and means to access the care they need.”
His foundation has partnered with the YMCA of Cranston to establish a facility in Rhode Island where people living with spinal cord injuries can "undergo their rehabilitation efforts around other people that all share the same goal: standing up from their chair and walking again.” The “top-tier facility” is being built to house the foundation's “state-of-the-art equipment and dedicated staff,” all for the price of a YMCA membership, according to Balletto.
“Balletto has been doing amazing things and a lot of promotion to bring awareness for people who are paralyzed,” said Torrioni. “He recently got the YMCA to equip some of their gyms to assist people that have paralysis, and he’s trying to make that the ‘gold standard’ now for all the YMCAs so that people who have a problem can go to the YMCA for treatment and be able to work on their bodies and promote longevity for them.”
Since providing this type of care is both challenging and expensive, Balletto and his foundation are seeking the help of the community to assist with this fundraising effort.
“I want to use my story to inspire the people that have similar injuries, and educate people that want to help but don’t know how. I am asking for the support of corporate sponsors, the local business community, the nonprofit sector and everyday citizens to help me create this place where people can fight spinal cord injury together.”
There are only 500 tickets available for the raffle, and entries close on Nov. 24 at 4 p.m. Click HERE for a chance to win the famed Heritage Softail Harley Davidson.