Even a week after the Oct. 15 Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk, pink dye still streaks some participants’ hair, just one of the South Burlington event’s lasting effects.
For the past nine years, the St. Michael’s College women’s basketball team has fundraised and walked in support of breast cancer awareness. All under head coach Shannon Kynoch’s wing, the team of women enthusiastically honors survivors and those battling the disease. So much so, they even won the “most team spirit” award this year.
“Sometimes we get held in our little basketball bubble,” Kynoch said. “But to get out into the community and make an impact, or be impacted, is really nice.”
Kynoch’s participation is personal. Both her maternal and paternal grandmothers were diagnosed with breast cancer. They each underwent mastectomies and survived, but died years later after battling different forms of cancer. Kynoch walks each year to honor their memory.
Kynoch’s players may not have a similar connection, but almost all of them can describe how cancer in general has affected someone they know. Coming together in support of a common cause is a positive experience, Kynoch said.
In solidarity, three players from the men’s basketball team joined the women this year. The disease has also affected their family members, Kynoch said.
Kynoch’s push for participation also stems from being a woman coaching women. In 2017, nearly 253,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed, according to the American Cancer Society.
“One of my players could be affected by this. I could be affected by this,” she said.
Thankfully, the education is working. Junior Emily Ferreri said she was influenced by a sign about mammograms posted along the five-mile course. It included information about how early detection aids in survival rates. While she joked the players could all get team mammograms together, she said the tip stuck.
“Having that implanted in our minds early is really helpful,” Ferreri said.
The Hyde Park, N.Y. native said the walk is a mix of being dedicated to the cause and having some community fun. Each of the team’s 10 players has a $100 fundraising goal, but this year, they reached almost $2,000. Their nine-year aggregate exceeds $10,000, Kynoch said.
Both player and coach said the walk is optional for the team, but everyone shows up, every year, making the event all the more special, Kynoch said.
Creating an even larger mob of pink, other Purple Knight teams have historically walked as well. Because the walk is scheduled during the college’s fall break and amidst the fall sports’ season, though, basketball takes the cake.
Kynoch said she’s watched the event grow exponentially. Participants, entertainers and event communication efforts have all increased, she noted.
In the spirit of awareness, the division-II team hosts a “Think Pink” game every season and invites the American Cancer Society to have an information booth. The team also plays a “coaches versus cancer” game every January to raise awareness of all kinds of cancer.
Kynoch, who leads the college’s student-athlete advisory committee, is a big proponent for athletes getting involved in the community. During Making Strides, she said her team is well received by survivors and their families, mostly because of their excitement to be there.
When the event kicks off, survivors march together in a wave of pink. Then, as they walk, the Colchester athletes may chat with survivors, Kynoch said, and connect with the matter on a more personal level.
“As a coach, you want to create outlets and avenues for these guys to express their feelings, having opportunities to just engage in different ways,” she said. “Certain things are going to resonate differently with different people, but creating that chance for them to be part of something is important.”
Editor’s note: This story is part of the Sun’s annual Breast Cancer Awareness section.