By Cathy Cavender
Remaining true to her vow to the Pancotts that she would "think big," Sue started an umbrella organization called Unite for HER ("Helping to Empower and Restore"). The idea was that the Pink Invitational would be an outreach and fundraising event of Unite for HER, which would also provide other services, such as wellness days for breast cancer patients at local hospitals, grants for gymnasts who have a parent struggling with breast cancer, and support for other nonprofits with a shared mission. When the ink was dry on the paperwork, she and her newly recruited board members went to work on the 2010 Invitational. This time around, 55 gyms and 1,500 girls participated, and they raised over $125,000 to implement programming in accordance with the organization's mission.
Since then, Unite for HER has experienced phenomenal growth, holding three Wellness Days at Pennsylvania's Paoli Hospital, where Sue was treated. In all, 75 women, recommended by their doctors, have been educated about the benefits of complementary therapies such as acupuncture, massage and yoga. Each received vouchers to cover the cost of two therapies of her choosing. "The year after my diagnosis, I spent about $6,000 out of pocket," says Sue. "I wanted others to have the same opportunities to heal, without the financial burden."
But those Wellness Days never would have happened if not for the Pink Invitational. The 2011 event, which raised $160,000, offered additional educational programs and eleven $1,000 grants to gymnasts. In February 2012, the meet will move to the much bigger Philadelphia Convention Center to accommodate more entrants and spectators.
The competition is an intensely emotional experience for everyone involved. "This isn't just another meet," explains board member Kim DiBiaggio. "Far from it. Normally, you compete, you get your prizes and you leave. But here, we all stay to listen to the educational speakers. It's so moving. When the girls file in, many people are in tears."
For one day the fighting spirit that's a necessary part of gymnastics is put aside. Everyone joins together for a bigger purpose. As Kim's daughter Jessica, a competitor, explains, "At a regular meet, each team wears its own distinct leotard. At the Pink meet, everybody wears the same pink leotard. It's just one giant team. And it's awesome."
Originally published in the October 17, 2011, issue of Family Circle magazine.