Meet the 8-year-old grand marshal

Siena Arioto was selected to be the Grand Marshal at the Gilroy Holiday Parade.

Siena Arioto, 8, had just written a letter to Santa when she got the big news–she was selected to be the Grand Marshal at the Gilroy Holiday Parade Saturday.

Now, she will hand deliver the letter when she rides in his sleigh, surrounded by friends from the third grade at Gilroy Prep School.

“I think it’s pretty amazing,” said her mother, Laura Arioto, a lifelong Gilroy resident whose grandparents, Kelvin and Peggy Ashford used to own Western Auto downtown. Her aunt and uncle own Ashford’s Heirlooms in the same location.

“It was so surprising. We found out about it at a school assembly. Melanie Corona (of the Downtown Business Association) presented Siena with a letter from Santa. All my friends knew and kept it a secret from me.”

Laura said she hopes having Siena at the center of the parade will help bring awareness to the rare disease her daughter suffers from, Friedreich’s Ataxia, a genetic disorder that saps her energy and makes it hard to keep her balance. It also causes heart disease and scoliosis. Some 6,000 people suffer from it. The family found out she had it last year.

“We hope a cure is around the corner,” said Arioto. “They are working on it.”

Meanwhile, the family, which includes children 24 and 5, try to stay upbeat. Siena makes it easier.

“She’s a very positive, happy little girl that can make anybody laugh,” said Arioto. “She’s handling it gracefully.”

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