2014-09-24 / Family

Rocket’s pink glare

Local teens to launch 4,000 rockets for cancer research
By Jim McConnell

Dylan Whitesel (left) and Sanzio Angeli are trying to raise $20,000 for breast cancer research and set a world record by simultaneously launching 4,000 model rockets. Dylan Whitesel (left) and Sanzio Angeli are trying to raise $20,000 for breast cancer research and set a world record by simultaneously launching 4,000 model rockets. The countdown has begun for a pair of local teens hoping to raise money for breast cancer research and earn themselves a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.

On Oct. 18, Sanzio Angeli and Dylan Whitesel will attempt to simultaneously launch 4,000 model rockets into the air above a yet-to-be-determined location in Chesterfield.

If successful, it would shatter the world record of 3,130, currently held by Jacob Smith of College Station, Texas.

Their effort is much more than an exercise in glory-seeking, however.

The high school seniors have created a nonprofit called “Rocket 4 the Cure,” through which they hope to raise $20,000 for the Central Virginia chapter of the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

In exchange for a $10 donation, Angeli and Whitesel will dedicate one of their 4,000 rockets either “in honor of” or “in memory of” a friend or family member who has battled cancer.

As of last Thursday evening, they had received 770 donations – most through their website The boys also had accumulated $1,155 in additional pledges through a fund-raising website called

The project is personal for Whitesel, 17, whose family carries the deadly BRCA2 gene. His mother, Diane, was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in 2008. His aunt, Jeri, also is a stage 4 breast cancer fighter, while three other women in his family have elected to undergo prophylactic double mastectomies to keep the disease at bay.

“It hits really close to my heart,” he said during an interview last week.

The unique fundraiser also is a labor of love for 17-year-old Angeli – but for a different reason. He first became interested in space travel as a child and gravitated toward building model rockets as a hobby. He recently attended a weeklong Virginia Aerospace Science and Technology Scholars academy at NASA’s Langley Research Center.

Angeli and Whitesel, who met and became friends as middle school students at St. Edward-Epiphany Catholic School, were watching a video last winter of Smith’s record-setting 2010 model rocket launch when they first discussed taking a stab at the world record themselves.

“How can you not have fun building 4,000 rockets?” Angeli wondered.

Before starting to work on the rockets, the boys consulted with two Richmond-area model rocketry clubs, whose members told them that what they were planning would be both cost-prohibitive and enormously time-consuming.

But only after large boxes full of rocket parts were delivered and stacked in the Angelis’ dining room did the magnitude of their project fully sink in.

Each individual rocket comes in a kit containing 14 pieces. Angeli and Whitesel not only need to assemble the rockets, but they’re also building 40 wooden launching pads that will hold 100 rockets apiece. The launching pads will be connected by electrical wires, allowing for the rockets to be activated by a central control.

So far, they’ve built 125 rockets. To reach their goal, they’ll have to build 3,875 more over the next three weeks, while also making room in their schedules for school, homework, extracurricular activities, eating and occasionally even sleeping.

The clock is ticking. Because they’ve invited the public to attend the launch, both know that failing to be ready by Oct. 18 is simply unacceptable.

“It can be pretty stressful,” Angeli said. “But if you keep your head down and keep working on it, eventually you put the pressure behind you.”

Angeli and Whitesel will have plenty of help assembling rockets over the next three weekends. The engineering club at Robious Middle has agreed to contribute free labor. So have members of the National Honor Society at Clover Hill High, where Angeli is a student in the Math and Science High School. Whitesel attends Midlothian High.

They’re confident that all the work put in will pay off – both on launch day and when they present a check to the local Komen chapter.

“It’s a pretty lofty undertaking,” said Angeli’s mother, Annette. “There have been some naysayers, but I have to say, there’s never been a time when they felt like they couldn’t do it.”

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