The following story couldn’t make it into today’s newspaper, but I didn’t want it to go to waste. This is a topic close to my heart, so give it a read. Stick around for the final quote. It spoke to me. I hope you like it too.
TUSCALOOSA — Charlotte Harris is the most stoic woman she knows. She treasures privacy.
Yet, standing in front of Coleman Coliseum last February, she found herself becoming emotional. That, she realized, was the power of pink.
Not a year after her diagnosis and just weeks after beating breast cancer, the University of Alabama’s senior vice president for human relations took another step in her recovery that night.
Attending the annual Power of Pink gymnastics meet was much heavier than she expected.Spotting the glowing luminary, a friend sponsored in her honor broke the dam.
“I didn’t think I was going to be able to walk up those steps and be able to walk in that coliseum,” Harris said. “I was so emotional. I did everything that I had to do that year. And yes, it was tough. I didn’t put my head in the sand, but all I did is take it one day at a time, and I got through it well, thank goodness. But there was
something about ending all the treatment, and just a few weeks later, walking up those steps.”
Harris will be back again at 7:30 p.m., for the eighth annual event established by Crimson Tide gymnastics coach Sarah Patterson.
A breast cancer survivor herself, Patterson wanted to raise money for treatment and breast-cancer screenings disadvantaged West Alabama residents.
To date, the Power of Pink/DCH Breast Cancer Fund has raised $1.2 million.
“All I can do when I’m sitting there in the doctor’s office is think about the mother with two kids who doesn’t have insurance, that doesn’t have enough money, or doesn’t have the medical service or care that I did,” Patterson said. “How would they navigate that system?”
As well as focusing on the fundraising goal, the meet between No. 6 Alabama and fifth-ranked Arkansas will honor local breast cancer survivors like Harris.
It’s also about providing hope for those still struggling with the disease.
For a third year, luminaries will be sold and displayed outside Coleman and a group of survivors will take part the pre-meet athlete introductions. Harris participated last year and this week Patterson brought her to an Alabama practice to share her story with the team.
“It puts a face to the picture, and it’s not just pink,” Patterson said. “It’s, OK, this woman that’s marching out with me, this is who I know. We encourage the ladies to write to the lady who was there with them.”
The survivors often write back with their Harris-like emotional moments shared when walking into packed arena.
“For some, it’s validation,” Patterson said. “I’m 18 years. I’m three months. Whatever it is, I made it.”
Tonight, that parade will include someone with ties to the program.
Every year, the Tide awards the Lewis Each Courage Award named after a former Crimson and White sports writer who lost his fight with cystic fibrosis in 1998. Patterson ran into his parents last season and learned his mother is now a survivor.
“So, Jean has lost her son,” Patterson said. “So, here she is still a supporter of Alabama gymnastics. Now she’s going to march out with one of our girls as one of the survivors.”
Patterson has a laundry list of individual, spirit-boosting stories associated with the meet.
There is a mother of a former gymnast who attended every pink meet and fundraiser. This year, she became a survivor.
Patterson knows of another woman not even a month out of surgery whose single goal is attending tonight’s meet.
Another friend of the program was recently hit by a car in a Tuscaloosa parking lot and suffered multiple broken bones.
“But her goal is to sit up in the handicapped section and watch the pink meet,” Patterson said.
David DeSantis, the general manager of Tuscaloosa Toyota, is another instrumental member of the movement. As a child, he watched his mother suffer from breast cancer for seven years before passing away. He vowed to make an impact after establishing himself in the business world, and now his dealership sponsors a fundraising golf event.
This is the second year of an expanded Power of Pink program. It now extends to other sports, such as women’s basketball, softball, tennis and rowing.
Through seven years, Alabama has not lost a pink gymnastics meet and is 16-0 when wearing the color at home or on the road.
The Power of Pink meet traditionally draws the largest crowd of the year, too. Of the eight Coleman Coliseum sellouts, five came for the pink meet that averaged 14,719 spectators in its first seven years.
“I bet people get so tired of hearing about pink, I bet they do,” Harris said. “But on the other hand, even if I felt that way, I would just recognize that it keeps it in front of people.
“And people now relate to it. That is the one thing they relate to when something like the Power of Pink comes up.”
For more information or to make a donation, go to thedchfoundation.org and follow the prompt for The Power of Pink.
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