ENCINITAS — Every day, Natalie Young said she would walk along Cardiff State Beach past what looks like a concrete tree stump, and would touch the bronze plaque adhered to it.
The plaque had three dolphins, one of which was a baby dolphin. That baby dolphin represented her son, Max Spartacus Kleckner.
Max, known throughout Cardiff-by-the-Sea as “Mighty Max,” galvanized the entire community as he bravely fought against a rare form of cancer in true superhero form until his death in 2012. The family affixed the plaque at the beach location, which they called “Spartacus Point,” so they could daily remember Max. Friends would leave things, flowers, shells, chocolate donuts and keepsakes in his memory.
Then, over the New Year’s holiday, the plaque disappeared. Young says she hasn’t been back since.
“I was shocked, I got to about a quarter mile out, and I could see that all the stuff on top (of the structure) was missing,” she said, fighting back tears. “I just sat on the pylon and had a big cry. I haven’t walked there since. I haven’t been able to go back.”
The Kleckner family is asking the community rally once more to help return Max’s memorial plaque.
The bronze plaque attracts dozens of visitors each day who drop off flowers, a shell, or to just remember the Mighty Max.
Max was diagnosed at age four with embryonic-type rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that ultimately spread into his bone marrow.
The family explained to Max that his “superhero cells” were going to battle the “bad guy” cells invading his body. When Max had a chemotherapy port placed under the skin of his chest, his parents told him it was his “superhero port.”
After his first round of treatment, Max had what his parents described in 2010 as a “normal year” but then the cancer returned, and the community rallied once more. They held a benefit in 2010 at the Cardiff Town Center to help the family defray the mounting medical costs.
The townsfolk even dressed the famed Cardiff Kook statue as Superman in honor of Max and his valiant fight.
Max continued to fight the cancer until Dec. 24, 2012, when he passed away on Christmas Eve.
The story of his valiant fight persists on several online blogs, a video essay and a website set up in his honor, maxspartacus.com
“Max was a soul that no one could touch, had a heart …as big as the moon, and was the kindest person I’ve ever known,” said one of his best friends, 12-year-old Shawlin Tucker. “Max wanted to inspire others, that was one of his main goals in life, even when the cancer was at his peak he always tried to keep a smile on his face and tell everyone “I’m gonna make it.’”
And, of course, there was Spartacus Point, where people in town could visit, shed a tear, or laugh about a memory they had with their friend.
“Time doesn’t seem to make any of it better,” Young said. “So I don’t think the theft made any of the wounds worse, per se, I think it took away a place where I could go when it hurts.”
The family asks for anyone who knows about or has the plaque to please return it to Spartacus Point or at Seaside Market.
This story has been updated since its original posting.