Pink meet making an impact

Pink meet making an impact

Not long after former Alabama gymnast Ann Wilhide Dziadon was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, she came to Tuscaloosa before the team’s annual Pink Meet to talk to the current Crimson Tide gymnasts about what she had recently been through.

In the middle of her dialogue, she pulled a wig off her head to reveal the baldness that comes from the agony of chemotherapy and other treatments of breast cancer.

“We were really shocked, in a good way,” said Alyssa Chapman, who is now a senior on the team. “It was amazing to see what a big deal this meet is. She was such an inspiration to us, and it made us realize exactly why we’re a part of this program.”

Dziadon said, “I was trying to relay to the team – it’s more than just a gymnastics competition. Everything seems really important, but something like that really puts things into perspective.”

The Alabama gymnastics team’s seventh annual Power of Pink meet will be held in Coleman Coliseum at 7:30 tonight, continuing a tradition that has already made such a great impact in its short existence.

The idea came from head coach Sarah Patterson’s own scare with breast cancer. She was having difficulty passing her annual mammogram, and although nothing was wrong with Patterson, she realized how lucky she was.

“I would go back and forth between a surgeon and my own doctor, and I kind of had the best of care,” Patterson said. “When you’re in that situation, you realize there are a lot of people who don’t have that kind of care.

“I tried to think of how I could use 10,000 fans and my position here at the University to somehow do something that would help make a difference.”

Making the idea a reality was as easy as Patterson could have hoped. Everybody she asked began donating or helping out with putting a “Pink Meet” together, something she attributes to the fact that breast cancer has affected so many people.

One example of this is David DeSantis, the co-owner of Tuscaloosa Toyota, whose mother died from breast cancer when he was 13.

“It was like, ‘Wow, here’s an opportunity, a godsend, to try to help with something that was near and dear to my heart,’” DeSantis said. Tuscaloosa Toyota is now sponsoring a pink event at every women’s athletic event on campus.

The community’s enthusiasm allowed Patterson to get the first Power of Pink meet together just months after formulating the idea.

“Nobody said no to me,” Patterson said. “We got leotard companies to donate leotards. We got other teams to buy in. After we hosted the first one, the hospital took on the initiative and donated all the proceeds [from its golf tournament] to the breast cancer fund that the gymnastics team had established.”

In the Tide’s first Pink Meet in 2005 against Auburn, 13,229 fans came to support the meet, the biggest crowd Alabama gymnastics had seen since 1999. Every Pink Meet since then has sold out. In 2006, Alabama even had a crowd that went beyond capacity, which was the largest collegiate gymnastics crowd since 1993 at 15,162 people.

A combined total of $865,000 has been donated during the five meets the DCH Breast Cancer Fund has been in existence. DeSantis said raising awareness for the disease in the month of February is also an important aspect of the Power of Pink, since it is at the opposite end of the calendar as breast cancer awareness month.

“Cancer doesn’t know what month it is, so we try to get the awareness out there 12 months a year,” DeSantis said. “National breast cancer month is October. Having this meet in February is good to rejuvenate everybody in the awareness part.”

The pink initiative that started with the Alabama gymnastics program now extends to professional sports. Major League Baseball players use pink bats, NFL players wear pink gloves and NBA players even don pink headbands to raise awareness for breast cancer.

Before tonight’s Pink Meet in Coleman Coliseum against Kentucky, 17 breast cancer survivors affiliated with the gymnastics program, including Dziadon, will be recognized on the floor. It is also alumni night.

“Both as an alumna and a survivor, it’s very special,” Dziadon said. “[This meet] means so much to anyone who has been through breast cancer. It gives people hope.

“It helps me recognize not only what I’ve accomplished individually, but how a community can accomplish so many things.”

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