Since his birth two years ago, Wyatt Catalano has been known as Warrior Wyatt.
It’s because of his nickname, and the story behind it, that he’s become a major presence in the Gilroy community, so much so that Wyatt has been selected as this year’s grand marshal of the Gilroy Downtown Business Association’s Holiday Parade, which is set for Saturday, Dec. 3, at 5:30 p.m.
Pre-parade activities will begin at 2:30 p.m.; they include a Doggie Dress-Up contest and performances by the Gilroy High Chamber Choir and the Studio Three dancers.
When the parade completes its route, the finale of the evening will be the lighting the tree. “The grand marshal, he gets to ride on the sleigh with Santa, and then he’ll get to help light the Christmas tree at the end of the Holiday parade,” said Melanie Corona, DBA coordinator.
Since 2012, the DBA has encouraged Gilroyans to take part in selecting grand marshal candidates.
“The idea has evolved as a way to let special people in the community know that the entire community is thinking about them,” Corona, said, adding, “any time you can do anything to honor somebody who is on a journey that’s different from most people’s, I think you ought to.”
The four members of the Holiday Parade committee make the final selection from the nominations submitted, but with 25 community votes going to Wyatt, the choice was an easy one.
“It is empowering and humbling to think that a community of over 48,000 residents nominated and selected our sweet Wyatt to be Grand Marshal for the Gilroy Holiday Parade,” Wyatt’s mom, Shannon Catalano, said. “Gilroy is where I grew up, and I’m so proud to live in a community that supports so many worthy causes, including pediatric mastocytosis.”
The Catalano family has been traveling on a tough road. The moment Wyatt was born they immediately knew something was wrong.
Wyatt was covered in lesions, with fluid-filled blisters on his face, stomach, and legs. Shannon’s doctor told her that in over 20 years of pediatric practice, she’d never seen anything like it.
Baby Wyatt was transferred from El Camino hospital in Los Gatos, to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford, where a team of medical experts performed a battery of tests.
The results showed that Wyatt suffered from diffuse cutaneous mastocytosis, a rare form mastocytosis, which produces an increase in the mast cells in the skin, resulting in severe allergic blisters, with redness, itching, and the risk of anaphylaxis.
Although Wyatt suffers from an extremely rare form of the disease (the Catalanos were told there were less than 30 reported cases in the U.S. at the time of his birth), his doctors have made great strides with his treatment.
And according to Shannon, despite all he’s gone through, Wyatt is a very happy little boy.
“That was something I noticed about him right away, it almost seemed like God gave him like an extra pain tolerance mechanism,” Shannon said. “His disposition is so happy, and so loving.”
A friend of the Shannon’s who has known her since before Wyatt was born, Sarah Antrim, spearheaded the movement to nominate Warrior Wyatt for grand marshal.
Corona emailed the nomination form to Antrim, who then forwarded it to at least 35 people, who then forwarded it to even more.
“Everybody that I sent it to it was unanimous: ‘Oh my gosh, this is such a great idea,’” Antrim said.
It was difficult for Antrim to keep the nomination a secret, and even more so once she found out that Wyatt had been selected as grand marshall, but the wait was worth it.
The official announcement took place on Nov. 6, a very special day for the entire Catalano family, the second annual Wyatt’s Walk, a 5K fundraiser Shannon organized to raise much-needed research funding and awareness for her son’s disease.
On a small stage overlooking the crowd gathered to support Wyatt, Corona presented the Catalanos with a gift box wrapped in Christmas paper, saying that Santa had asked she deliver it to them.
As Shannon opened the box, balloons rose into the air with a note attached at the end of their ribbons.
Her hands shaking, and with a catch in her throat, Shannon told the crowd that Wyatt had been selected as the grand marshal.
“I think it was great that it was with other people that are supporting the cause, and maybe it will give others ideas,” Antrim said about the official announcement.
Wyatt’s appointment only solidified what both Shannon and her husband, Steven, already knew—that the Gilroy is a very generous and supportive community, and the one they are happy to call home.
“Not only does this role for Wyatt mean that we will have another amazing opportunity to raise awareness for Wyatt’s disease, this selection also stands for what Gilroy is all about: a community with a spice for life,” the Catalanos said.
“We couldn’t be more grateful that during this season of giving, Gilroy gave us the grandest gift of all, a chance to teach so many about Wyatt’s disease. Our family is beyond blessed by this community, and we are looking forward to a meaningful sleigh ride with Santa to kick off this holiday season.”