Student-athletes battle on the playing field, but the sport is really a brotherhood or sisterhood, and when someone is hurting, people step up and fight together. The Goucher College field hockey team is joining the rest of the Landmark Conference and accepting the 100-mile challenge set forth by Wesley College.
Each player on the field hockey team will attempt to complete 100 miles, whether walking or running, in the 31 days of October to raise awareness and support for breast cancer education.
"Our field hockey organization is always there to support one another," said Goucher field hockey head coach Stacey Eversley. "It was an easy yes for me to participate in the 100-mile challenge to help raise awareness and support so many who had and have to continue to fight breast cancer. I am very proud of my own team members and those in the Landmark Conference who are participating in this challenge."
"It means a lot to me that the team is participating in this challenge," said senior Ari Hooper. "Raising awareness for breast cancer and encouraging people to administer regular self-examinations is so important."
"Spreading awareness about breast cancer is something I have been heavily involved with for my entire life," said junior Emily Postlethwait. "Dedicating our time and ourselves to this cause, especially when we are unable to do a pink-out game this fall, is a great way to get our team, the Goucher community, as well as all the Landmark Conference as a whole involved. It's something greater than ourselves."
Alexis Howerin, a senior on the field hockey team at Wesley College, was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in early 2020 after finding a lump from self-examination. From January to April, Howerin went through numerous doctors' visits, mammograms, and consultations, which led to a double mastectomy. At this time, Howerin has undergone over five months of chemotherapy with more to come.
Goucher has not played Wesley in field hockey since 1996, but in recent years other Goucher programs have played the Delaware school. Postlethwait visited Wesley before she chose Goucher and remembers that trip when thinking about Howerin.
"I first heard about Alexis' story from our coach. She had sent us a link to the challenge, and the details of Alexis' fight were outlined," said Postlethwait. "I took this harder than I'm sure most of my teammates did as I had visited Wesley on a recruiting trip in high school. I am unsure if I met Alexis, but the team was very welcoming and tight-knit. If that is any indication of what Alexis is like, she is an exceptional individual."
While Hooper has not had personal contact with Howerin, she does think about what it is like going through the diagnosis at such a young age.
"My initial thoughts were ones of sadness and empathy for the player, Alexis," said Hooper. "It's scary to receive any cancer diagnosis and especially during this time where hospitals are still trying to handle the current pandemic. It's also hard to receive that diagnosis as a student-athlete as our usual outlet for things going on in our personal life is to play our sport. The treatment may leave someone with energy levels that are too low to even consider playing."
Breast cancer is something that hits close to home for many people. Hooper had a high school coach pass in 2018 after a five-year battle, while Postlethwait had relatives die from breast cancer.
"My high school coach during my freshman year, Coach Becky Williams, was diagnosed with breast cancer and completed her first round of chemo treatment all while coaching our team," said Hooper. "We played a breast cancer awareness game for her during our season in 2013. Unfortunately, in the fall of 2018, while I was playing at Goucher, I received the news she had passed due to cancer, which broke my heart. She was a great coach and kept a positive light despite her diagnosis and the pain she was going through. Her story and experiences continue to inspire me to be a positive light as well as complete this 100-mile challenge in her memory."
"Both my maternal great-grandmother and my aunt died of breast cancer," said Postlethwait. "I never knew my great-grandmother, but my aunt passed when I was almost three years old. When I look at pictures of her and I or hear stories about her, I can't help but wonder what our relationship would've been like if she was still around."
Each member of the field hockey team is going to walk, jog or run 100 miles. Some like Postlethwait are going the extra mile by walking and running 100 miles each. Hooper said that she is going to be doing a little bit of all three, including taking her dog for walks.
The 100 miles is to support Howerin and also raise awareness for breast cancer during October, which is national Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For more information on Howerin's story: https://spark.adobe.com/page/WzvlfA0tFKWkr/ or on the Wesley Athletics website.
In addition to raising awareness for breast cancer and all those who have gone through this courageous battle, it is also important to remember to do self-examinations to detect it early. It was a crucial step in Howerin saving her own life. Even for young, healthy athletes such as Howerin, breast cancer can affect women at any age.
"I think a lot of people forget that breast cancer can affect young people. Even more often, people forget it can affect males," said Postlethwait. "By doing a self-examination, and educating yourself on the physical signs of the illness, you have the opportunity to catch it early. No one knows you and your body better than yourself, and even just a few seconds out of your daily routine (can even be done in the shower) could save your life."
"Breast cancer awareness is so important and can be diagnosed at any age, which is why regular self-examinations are essential to catching it early on," said Hooper. "When done regularly over a period of time, it can become easy to detect when something isn't feeling right and gives a person a greater chance of catching breast cancer early on."
The Goucher field hockey team will chronicle its 100-mile challenge as a team on its Instagram page (@goucherfieldhockey) if you want to follow along in its journey to raise awareness and support Howerin.