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Turlock teen is shining example of benefactor of balloon festival
balloon festival
Turlock High school student Corbin Maldonado hasn’t let his brush with cancer dampen his love for life – continuing to brighten the day for others he meets. - photo by GLENN KAHL / The Bulletin
Balloon Festival

What: Fifth Annual Color the Skies Balloon festival

When: Events begin at 6 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday

Where: Ripon’s Mistlin Sports Park on River Road just east of Jack Tone Road

Benefits: Children’s Hospital Central California in Madera

Activities: Some 25 hot air balloons lift off both mornings shortly after dawn, pancake breakfast, kite flying demonstrations, one mile and 5K races, skydiving exhibitions, fighter jet flyovers with $5,000 back seat reserved rides, children’s fun run, tri-tip lunch

Information: To see a complete list of activities and scheduled times, visit

It is not every day you meet someone with transparency of character where you can almost feel their emotions and be close enough to touch their soul.  

This is true of at least one teen who is fighting cancer.  Corbin Maldonado will be sharing his experiences and  brave battle this weekend as he is the ambassador for the “Color the Skies Over Ripon” balloon festival taking place at Ripon’s Mistlin Sports Park to benefit Children’s Hospital of the Central Valley based in Madera.

The 15-year-old Turlock High School student has been dealing with leukemia.  It had taken him out of school for almost a year as he spent much of that year in the hospital with his many friends staying supportive.

“Hi, I’m Corbin Maldonado,” he said at first meeting him with both his eyes and handshake displaying confidence.

Corbin, selected by the Children’s Hospital to be their outreach spokesman, has an inborn talent of putting people at ease with his eyes.  Corbin doesn’t have to smile — thanks to a quiet, warm yet outgoing charisma.

Corbin and his extended family of 12 are scheduled to climb into the basket of one or more hot air balloons in the early morning hours of the festival on Saturday at the Mistlin Sports Park on River Road just east of Jack Tone Road in Ripon.

Corbin obviously appreciates where he has been in life, growing up the youngest of six children, and he knows where he is headed, to a future career either as an engineer like his dad or as a journalist.  He spent much of the current summer already working at a variety of supporting tasks at his dad’s engineering firm.

The popular high school student never looked away while talking – being intent to understand every word asked – showing the wisdom of more than a high school sophomore.  There was a transparency in the depth of his character that made him easy to talk with and to feel much of what he had been through in his life and near death medical experience.

“I guess it comes from my experiences – from God and the challenges I’ve grown up with,” Corbin said when asked about his character that is unique for most his age.  “I’m not one to complain, but I didn’t have the easiest life.  I’m not going to let that hinder me.”

His mother Kathy interjected that Corbin has to be around people.

“He’s a magnet,” she said. “He lights it up when he walks into a room.”

His sister Brittany calls him her hero.  She’s in Fidn Design School in San Francisco.”

He can’t play football this year because the doctors haven’t cleared him yet.  His No. 29 jersey has been reserved for him when he is ready to put his pads back on and run onto the field.

“I was not going to ditch my team because I couldn’t play this season,” he said.  “I’m now managing to help out my team in any way that I can in repairing equipment.”

At least he is on the field with the team and sometimes having to sit with the cheer leaders.  

“I think I am a fairly modest person in being able to not pay attention to the cheer leaders,” he chuckled.

He said it was something of a weird experience for him being out of school and off of the football team.

“It didn’t set me back, it just freezed me in place,” Corbin said

During that year he was schooled at home and in the hospital as much as possible so that he was able to keep up.

Asked who had the most impact on his life as he was growing up, he didn’t hesitate for a moment saying it was his mom Kathy.

“When I was four, Kathy came into my life at the Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz.  I have been in love with her ever since,” he said. “She has always been my mom figure.  She is a loving person herself.  I hope I’ve picked up that trait in helping others from her.”

“I know I can always go to her with anything I need,” Corbin added.

His mom remembered that she pulled him out of school in October 2009 following a football practice where he had developed unusually bad bruises.  She said he bruised like a peach on his body and forearms.

She said a doctor ran tests on him and found that his blood platelets were at an 8,000 count level. Normal is about 150,000.  That was when she chose to pull him out of school and he didn’t go back.  And it was shortly before the big rival football game with Pitman High School – the biggest thing in Turlock each year.

So from October to August Corbin was in and out of the hospital with three and four week stints. One period had him in the hospital for nearly four months.  

“We had to basically live in the hospital with him,” his mom said.

She recalled they got to know the staff – wonderful doctors and nurses – as they had to come in and out of the room unannounced.  They even caught us brushing our teeth, she said smiling.

She added that no words of gratitude would begin to express their feelings toward the medical staff.  She said that Corbin became so popular that nurses fought over who was going to check on him along with student nurses – he was a favorite.

Corbin had become so close to his oncologist that he dressed up like him for Halloween, he mom added.

He was recently said to be in clinical remission of his (APML) leukemia, but now doctors say he is in molecular remission – literally cancer free.

Mom Kathy said the doctors told her APML is the best type of the disease to have today, because it is curable.  But, they added that was not the case some eight to 10 years ago.