Last week McMaster’s Athletics and Recreation departments hosted their annual Think Pink event, a week dedicated to raising awareness and funds on behalf of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. A part of national fundraising efforts since its inception in 2007, the event has established a tradition of bringing together student-athletes from across the university for a worthy cause. While each has been touched by cancer in a unique way, their stories offer a glimpse into how the battle against cancer unites us, and what we can do to help.
“I have had friends that have lost their parents to breast cancer,” said Rebecca Steckle, a fifth-year outside hitter on the women’s volleyball team. “To dedicate something so small, that seems so meaningless like a volleyball game… you really gain perspective. You go into [it] wanting to win and working hard and focusing so much, but to step back and say this is for something so much more… is a really special thing”
Steckle was part of a team effort that produced back-to back wins in Burridge Gym last weekend, both of which were dedicated to raising awareness for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. A part of the campus-wide Think Pink initiative, the women’s volleyball team played two of the eight games hosted by McMaster varsity teams over the course of three days, all devoted to the Think Pink cause. But for Steckle, her reason to participate goes even deeper than her own personal relationships.
“I work with cancer patients, and I see the way they fight through their disease,” said Steckle. “It doesn’t overcome them. I see their strength… as athletes we are privileged to be here, so anything we can do to give back and use our platform to fight back is really special and we have an opportunity to do that.”
An oncology nurse in local hospitals, Steckle got involved with Think Pink through McMaster Athletes Care, a student-run organization that aims to use sport as a catalyst for inciting social change. Each year, student-athletes partner with the McMaster Athletics and Recreation department to coordinate a wide-range of fundraising events. Not only have they been able to successfully draw in local members of the community, the partnership of varsity athletes across sport has created a culture of cooperation and family, something Steckle can attest to.
“My coach said in his speech last year that ‘family is not confined to space and time, so when a weekend like this comes, and family gets back together, we have a chance to do something really impactful.”
This “family” of student-athletes has been something Steckle has been a part of from the start of her career as a marauder. When asked about any memories of Think Pink that really struck a chord, she recalled her first experience with the cause.
“In my first year we would have a game or two were we dedicate it to the Think Pink campaign. I still remember my first year, we would get shirts and get to write someone’s name or a group of people we were playing for… it was special to feel so connected to something because everyone is touched by cancer in some way.”
“Everyone is touched by cancer in some way,” said Lexie Spadafora, a fourth-year guard on the women’s basketball team. “For our team especially.”
Since arriving for her first year at McMaster in 2013, Spadafora has seen the development of Ontario University Athletics all-stars, an all-time leading scorer, and been a part of three OUA playoff runs in a deep division. But tough opponents would not be the only challenge her and her team would do battle with.
In 2015, head coach and 22-season figurehead of women’s basketball Theresa Burns would announce the return of her battle with breast cancer. Undergoing treatment throughout the 2015/2016 season, these Marauders have seen up close the fight and perseverance anyone who has been touched by cancer experiences.
“[Think Pink] means a lot to her, it means a lot to us,” said Spadafora. “It is always in the back of our mind, we are doing this for her.”
“Everyone has one goal, and that is to beat cancer. For us to do it in a sport we love, and for a coach we love and look up too… that’s a good way to do it.”
Fourth-year guard, McMaster women’s basketball
Even before Think Pink, women’s basketball has been at the forefront of breast cancer initiatives. Whether it is wearing pink socks and warm-ups on game day, running the CIBC Run for the Cure, or raising over 20,000 dollars for “Team TB” in 2015, these Marauders are doing everything in their power to make a difference.
“We just want to get everyone involved as much as we can,” said Spadafora. “Everyone has one goal, and that is to beat cancer. For us to do it in a sport we love, and for a coach we love and look up to… that’s a good way to do it.”
And they aren’t alone. Over 400 fans packed Burridge Gym for the Think Pink games against York and Queen’s, a testament to the tight knit community the women’s program has created. But if there is one thing Spadafora wants to emphasis it is that those games were just a starting point.
“This is something that shouldn’t just happen this week,” said Spadafora. “It should happen all year. This week kind of promotes it, but it is important for students and members of the community to know that they are always other ways to contribute.”
“There are always ways to contribute,” said Ethan Saunders, a fifth-year veteran of the men’s rugby team. “That is one of the things that makes it so great.”
Involved with Think Pink since his first year, Saunders noticed the week as one of the volunteering opportunities brought to athletes by McMaster athletes care.
“Run in unison with marauder alumni weekend, was packed with returning players, coaches and members of the community who were able to partake in the week’s fundraising initiatives.”
“I was looking for a way to have an impact beyond the field,” said Saunders. “Because I realized early on that’s a pretty limited number of people I can affect there… [Think Pink] is a broader scale for sure.”
For the duration of the week, Saunders spearheaded an athlete run promotion station in the David Braley Athletic Center. Ditching his rugby gear in favor of a pink ballet tutus and matching neon tights, Saunders did everything from pass on information about the cause to selling raffle tickets and t-shirts. He also helped run daily fundraising events such as “Pink Balloon Pop”, and “Dodge For A Cause”.
“My favorite event each year has been pie-in-the-face, I find it absolutely hilarious,” said Saunders. “I had a chance to throw my first pie this year, instead of being on the receiving end of the pies… its just good to have all the other athletes out and have everyone coming by.. it is just such a good community event, what more could you ask for?”
No stranger to helping others, Saunders was the recipient of an OUA community service award last year for his volunteer work with the McMaster Student Therapist program and as a team representative for McMaster Athlete’s Care.
Saunders also voiced his support for the timing of Think Pink this year. Run in unison with marauder alumni weekend, Burridge Gym was packed with returning players, coaches and members of the community who were able to partake in the week’s fundraising initiatives.
“It is cool to have [students and alumni],” said Saunders. “It is kind of a past and present thing which is very reflective of what you are dealing with with breast cancer as well, it is a unifying issue, so there is some neat messaging there… but the more people you have around campus the better”