For a good four hours, at every angle and turn, there was teamwork.
The Bump Set & Spike for the Cure returned on Saturday with a new home — St. Francis High School gymnasium — and some of the state’s top girls volleyball teams. Eight teams in all, playing two sets to 30, from No. 1 Kamehameha and No. 2 Punahou to Division II state title contender St. Francis, fans got to see some of the best volleyball on exhibit.
For most of the young athletes, breast cancer isn’t a daily topic, of course. They got hear from Lori Garcia, the local mission coordinator for Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
“The pink ribbon was started by the Susan G. Komen Foundation. She made a promise and it kept growing and growing,” Garcia said. “Everybody thinks pink. These girls here today are leaders and future leaders.”
They also heard St. Francis coach Sonya Samsonas share the story of her mother-in-law, Geri “GG” Samsonas, who died recently of breast cancer.
“She fought her hardest. She was a boisterous, fun-loving, outgoing person. She was diagnosed in April of 2012 and she never stopped her fight. She always had a smile on her face no matter how much she was hurting, so this is for her,” Samsonas said.
Garcia noted that one in eight women will develop breast cancer, and that alone is a statistic that is astounding and scary. But there’s hope. She also pointed out that in the 1970s, the survival rate was 74 percent. Today? It’s 98 percent when detected early.
“We’ve heard stories about when they come in (to a physician), it’s already too far gone,” Garcia said.
It’s normally quite a stretch to connect any disease to outstanding, healthy student-athletes, but education — awareness — is a start. A topic that was far more difficult to discuss a generation ago is something more people aren’t afraid to bring up.
But here’s the catch. The state tournament begins on Tuesday. Nearly all the teams in Sunday’s Bump Set & Spike are playing in it. A year’s worth of dreams and goals are right there on the table. Playing in these exhibition games on Sunday could be risky, yet every coach was glad to be there. Again. Moanalua. Kamehameha. Punahou. They were there when the event was held at La Pietra for its first few years. La Pietra athetlic director Ross Kinsler and girls volleyball coach Beth McLachlin are still involved. Kinsler organized the volleyball side of the event and found it a new home.
“We worked on things we need to work on. It was good for us,” Blake said. “Bernice Pauahi Bishop, our school’s founder, actually passed away due to breast cancer. That’s one of the reasons we like to participate. Our girls understand their kuleana and responsibility. We definitely wanted to be part of it. Whenever Ross asks us to do it, we always make sure we participate. Here with Sonya and St. Francis helping out, it was a no-brainer for us to be part of this.”
Moanalua approached the event as part of a day-long workout.
“Our girls are kind of excited about getting over there for the state tournament, but we’re happy to do this Bump, Set & Spike for the Cure,” Lake said. “We practiced a little bit this morning, but we use this as another practice. We told them to play hard, don’t fool around.”
There is a documentary on the air that gripped me, also on Sunday. I hadn’t planned to watch it, but in hindsight, it was kismet, as they say. Mondays at Racine centers on a group of women whose lives have been affected by breast cancer. I watched it on HBO, hours after the tournament. In their struggle, over a period of more than a year, these women found strength in each other. They gathered together often in a hair salon where two sisters, the co-owners, have their arms wide open.
The sisters’ mother died of cancer years ago, and they made it their mission of sorts to help other women through it — “it” meaning hair loss caused by chemotherapy. Their mom never got over the “loss of her beauty,” as one sister said. But the unity of these women is beyond words. One of them endured the breakup of her marriage. Another underwent a double mastectomy. And they stayed together, supported by their sisters in arms, by their husbands (for the most part).
It was, and is, ultimately about teamwork. The most incredible selflessness and bonds between women who otherwise might never have met.
I know it’s tough to understand the depths of this struggle, me being a guy, never having experienced this disease in my immediate family. But I know loss, and just about everyone who gets old enough will, too. I see teamwork all the time on courts and fields. The teammates and coaches I saw compete on Sunday — encouraging each other, fighting together for every point, getting up from the floor every time — I’m willing to believe they will carry it on for life. They will lean on each other when the strength isn’t there to stand alone. I believe they will forever think pink.