Swimmers from Ship Ahoy and Little Monmouth might have been trying to outswim each other at their meet Tuesday night, but both teams donned gold caps to show that they were on the same side of trying to raise awareness for pediatric cancer.
The meet was a part of “Swimmers Go Gold,” an event to raise awareness for pediatric cancer. This marks the second summer that “Swimmers Go Gold” has taken place throughout the North Shore Summer Swim League and beach clubs throughout Sea Bright, Monmouth Beach and Long Branch. The campaign to raise awareness is run by the Make Some Noise Foundation, an organization that aims to spread information about pediatric cancer and help raise money to fund new research.
On Tuesday evening, crowds packed around the Ship Ahoy Beach Club pool in Sea Bright to watch the swimmers compete in their golden caps. Among the swimmers was 16-year-old Nicole Foster, cancer survivor, competing for the Pavilion Dolphins. Nicole competed in multiple races with throngs of supporters and teammates cheering her on.
The foundation was started by Malcolm Sutherland-Foggio of Morris County when he was 11 after being diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare bone cancer that primarily affects children and adolescents. In August 2009, Suterland-Foggio met Little Silver resident Lilly Daneman, who had recently been diagnosed with the same kind of cancer. Lilly's mother, Gerri Daneman, soon became a member of the board of trustees and has worked to bring "Swimmers Go Gold" to local swim clubs.
While Swimmers Go Gold is largely focused on raising awareness, Make Some Noise Foundation also sells merchandise — sweatshirts, t-shirts, and caps — to raise funds for research. At the Ship Ahoy meet, Mari Kovach and her daughter, Rachel Kovach, 12, could be found at the merchandise table. Rachel is also a survivor of Ewing's sarcoma.
"It started Thanksgiving in 2010 when I had a pain in my knee," Rachel said. "At first, it was misdiagnosed as tendinitis, but then they found a tumor the size of a Pepsi bottle." At the time, she was 10 years old.
After 14 rounds of chemotherapy and surgery on her femur, Rachel is now cancer-free, but doctors told her they were unsure if she would ever be able to swim again. Nevertheless, Rachel has since rejoined her beloved Monmouth Barracudas and gone a step further by completing the Avon Ocean Mile Swim a few weeks ago.
In her speech before the meet, Rachel -- who's a junior member of the Make Some Noise board -- highlighted the importance of spreading facts about pediatric cancer. "A child's chance of being diagnosed with cancer is 1 in 320," she said. "Only 3 percent of cancer research funding goes to pediatric cancer."
Also, unlike many adult cancers, there is no early detecting or screening for childhood cancer; 80 percent of childhood cancers have already metastasized by the time they are diagnosed.
A large problem that Make Some Noise seeks to rectify is that they say many treatment protocols for pediatric cancer are outdated. The foundation raises money for non-chemotherapy treatments -- yet much of the medicine given to children is meant for adult cancers. Make Some Noise provides for research to update these medications specifically for children.
Rachel and Nicole say that educating others and creating community support for the cause is their first step.
As Rachel told the crowd, “Swimmers are a very caring and generous group of people.”