Hockey players ‘face off’ against cancer in tourney

MIDDLEBURY — When Liz Cronin began battling breast cancer in 1999, her teammates on the Middlebury Otters women’s ice hockey club rallied around her and launched the “Face Off Against Breast Cancer” tournament. Long after Cronin triumphed over the illness, FOABC, as the tourney has come to be known, continues to support the one in eight women diagnosed with breast cancer, annually collecting tens of thousands of dollars for the Cancer Patient Support Foundation. Last year FOABC raised $70,000.
Ten Vermont women’s ice hockey teams will compete in the 17th FOABC at Middlebury’s Memorial Sports Center this coming Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 30 and 31.
To celebrate the more than $500,000 the tournaments have raised over the years, organizers are also throwing a “Half Million $trong” tent party for players and supporters on the Saturday.
As usual, the Middlebury Otters and Middlebury Mystix women’s teams will host the tournament. Others planning to participate across the competitive, recreational and novice divisions include Burlington’s Queen City Brewery, Team Evolution, Burlington Switchblades, Northeast Kingdom Women’s Hockey, Manchester Rusty Blades, Waterbury Wicked, Barre 32 Degrees, and Team Warrior. The competition will even have a “Friends and Family” section for men’s, kids’, and co-ed teams.
“Half Million $trong” will consist of an afternoon and evening in a heated tent on Memorial Sports Center grounds, replacing the regular Saturday night celebration at a local tavern. It will feature a bar hosted by Two Brothers Tavern, live music by cover band The Horse Traders, and a raffle. Guests can donate what they wish instead of paying a cover charge.
“‘The Half Million $trong’ celebration we’re adding to our tournament is a chance to thank women’s hockey players who’ve raised money over the last 16 years,” said Committee Co-chair Kris Bowdish, who has participated in the tournament since 2006. “Hopefully we can get a lot of hockey members, family members and friends to come out and help us celebrate.”
By gathering donations from the community, women’s ice hockey players raise most of the money FOABC acquires. It accepts onsite donations as well. The organization has also begun obtaining donations through CrowdRise, an online fundraising platform.
All proceeds go toward patient services and the emergency fund of the Cancer Patient Support Foundation (CPSF) in order to assist breast cancer patients in the state with counseling and nutritional support, and emergency financial aid. The tournament is the largest fundraiser for CPSF’s emergency fund.
“It’s an amazing foundation we’ve been working with for quite a few years now,” said Bowdish. “We like them so much because of how they use the funds. This program is helping cancer patients and survivors with financial situations.”
In August 2014, Jill French of Bristol was diagnosed with cancer after experiencing abnormal pain in her breast. By then it had already spread to her lymph nodes under her arm.
“It affects you pretty dramatically. The initial impact of communicating to my husband, son and mom was a lot more traumatic for them than for me because I immediately felt, ‘I’ve got this, but I’m confident I’m going to overcome this,’” she said. “For them, it was a lot scarier because there’s so much more unknown; they can’t tell how I’m feeling. Plus, they’re going to be the ones left behind if I don’t get through it.”
French’s counselor at the UVM Medical Center helped her understand the resources she had access to beyond medical coverage before she began chemotherapy, pointing her to CPSF funds that alleviate the financial burden of daily treatment.
“I live 30 minutes away from the hospital. When you’re driving back and forth every day, it took a lot of extra gas,” she said. “They offered to give me compensation for that. It was extremely helpful to know that resource was there; it’s not income-based.”
With self-determination and the support of her loved ones, caregivers and resources such as CPSF, French beat her illness. This March will mark her first year of being cancer free since undergoing surgery.
Although French has never heard of FOABC, and will be out of state for this year’s tournament, she expresses interest in participating next year.
“I would love to have gone to that,” she said.
Planning for this coming weekend’s tournament commenced last August. Meeting twice a month, the committee has been working past the challenge of running such a major event with multiple components, such as ensuring enough teams participate and fundraise adequately, managing an informative website (www.faceoffagainstbreastcancer.org) and incorporating social media.
According to Bowdish, FOABC is unique because the sponsorship of many local organizations defrays all tournament expenses. The tournament committee seeks business sponsorships from $50 to $5,000. Players also seek individual sponsorship.
To make a donation, visit www.faceoffagainstbreastcancer.org, or write a check for the Cancer Patient Support Foundation (CPSF) and mail it to Face Off Against Breast Cancer, P.O. Box 421, Middlebury, VT 05753.
Bowdish expects good things from the upcoming FOABC events.
“Hopefully we’ll get people from the community to come see what we’re doing, see the women play and thank them for everything they’ve done,” she said.

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