Ridgefield's Memory Lane Cruisers' car show returns in dedication of a club constant: 'People always got a kick out of her'

RIDGEFIELD — This weekend, classic cars and hot rods will drive up to Jesse Lee Church for Memory Lane Cruisers’ annual car show. The fundraiser benefits an individual or organization each year and returns this Saturday following last year’s COVID cancellation.

Resident Sarah Leavy was chosen as this year’s beneficiary and has been attending car shows “basically since she was born,” her father, Steve, said. After she faced a “life-changing” diagnosis in May 2019, event organizers decided to dedicate their first car show post COVID in Leavy’s honor.

At the time Leavy was enrolled at Full Sail University in Florida, but for a week couldn’t walk to campus since her feet were badly swollen. “I wasn’t feeling like myself,” she recalled. “I was very tired and didn’t have the energy I (usually) did.”

Unsure of the condition’s cause, Leavy went to AdventHealth Winter Park Hospital in her pajamas not expecting to stay overnight. After running tests, doctors there initially thought she had leukemia, she said.

Leavy was then transferred to AdventHealth Orlando where she was diagnosed with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, or HLH, a rare genetic disease characterized by inflammatory symptoms.

“It freaked me out,” she said. “I had no idea what it was, how severe it was (or) what the treatment plan was, but they decided to do chemotherapy ... to get my body back to its normal health.”

Leavy endured a months-long stay in the hospital that June, undergoing blood transfusions, bone marrow biopsies and spinal taps in addition to chemo. In July she returned to Ridgefield to continue treatments closer to home at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She ultimately re-enrolled at Full Sail but took classes online instead.

“I had gotten so adjusted to living in Florida and developing this life there, then everything abruptly changed,” Leavy said. “It was the first time in my life where I had no control over anything … but I made the best of it.”

To retain some normalcy, Leavy volunteered to deejay Memory Lane’s 2019 car show as she had done in years past. At this point she was still undergoing treatments and taking seven different medications a day.

“This was the one event that I wanted to go to (where) I wouldn’t feel like a hospital patient,” she said.

Steve founded Memory Lane Cruisers back in the 1980s. Growing up at car shows, Leavy became more interested in the “catchy songs” she heard there, she said.

Steve recalled that when the family would attend Lead East, a large-scale oldies festival in Parsippany, N.J., they would dress Leavy up in a little poodle skirt that swirled at her ankles as she danced to the music.

“People always got a kick out of her,” he said.

The father-daughter duo’s shared love of classic rock music made them the perfect pair to deejay Memory Lane’s car show over the years.

Today, Leavy is grateful “to be back to normal,” she said, and is humbled that the club is holding this year’s car show in her honor. She plans to donate some of the proceeds to Jesse Lee and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which also treats children with HLH.

“Even though it’s for me this year, my biggest excitement is seeing other people enjoy it,” she said. “We’ve done this show for so many years (and) it’s had an impact on so many people within this town.”

“Summer Cruisin’ for Sarah” kicks off at Jesse Lee Church (207 Main St., Ridgefield) on Saturday, June 10 at 10 a.m.

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com