MONTGOMERY – Nick Saban, head football coach at The University of Alabama, will be the keynote…
It's pink week at Alabama.
Stroll down Bear Bryant Drive once the sun goes down and you'll see pink lights at the sorority and fraternity houses and at Coleman Coliseum. Head to campus and Denny Chimes will be lighted up pink. Go downtown for dinner and the Bama Theater and restaurants like 5 and Chuck's Fish will also be pink.
Pink, pink, pink and more pink.
All these venues have taken out their normal lights and substituted them for pink ones this week to honor the Alabama gymnastics team's annual Power of Pink meet that promotes breast cancer awareness.
The powerful pink initiative was started nine years ago by gymnastics head coach Sarah Patterson after she had a breast cancer scare.
"I was in a situation where there was nothing wrong with me, but I just couldn't pass my mammogram," she said. "I had great care, was going from one doctor to another, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with me, but it made me think, ‘Well, I have the best of care and the best insurance, but what about the mother of two that doesn't."
And so the Power of Pink was born. For nine years now, the Crimson Tide has hosted a gymnastics meet to honor breast cancer survivors, promote awareness and direct attention to the DCH Breast Cancer fund, which provides disadvantaged women with screenings, in a addition to educational programs on prevention and early detection at the Lewis and Faye Manderson Cancer Center.
Tuesday, the team went to visit the Cancer Center at the DCH Regional Medical Center.
"It was an amazing experience to meet these brave men and women and learn about their battle against cancer," said senior All-American Ashley Sledge. "Hopefully we made the time during their treatment go a little faster. It also really drove home what Sarah and everyone involved in the Power of Pink is working for. It makes me look forward to Friday even more."
Friday, Alabama will host Kentucky for the ninth annual Power of Pink meet at 7:30 p.m. in Coleman Coliseum. Gymnasts from both teams will wear sparkly pink leotards, and fans are encouraged to wear bright pink and will be given pink shakers to cheer on the athletes.
Since the first meet in 2005, the Power of Pink has exploded to more than three dozen of the nation's top gymnastics programs. This season, Alabama will participate in three pink meets—it's season opener against Missouri, Friday against Kentucky and in March when it heads to Baton Rouge to face LSU.
Friday, in lieu of Alabama's usual introductions, each gymnast will come into the spotlight with a special guest. The PA announcer will introduce the gymnast and the breast cancer survivor linked to her arm.
"It's a great athletic competition, but I also think it's a night you get to recognize other people and the challenges that they've faced," said Patterson. "You know, 15 years ago people didn't really talk about it, and now when you see people in the NFL wearing pink or you see them in the NBA wearing pink or all different kinds of events, I think it draws awareness to it.
"If one person walks out of Coleman Coliseum Friday night and they've thought more about it or they go get a test and it brings awareness, then all the efforts and the time and energy we've placed into it has been a good thing."
Four years ago, Sledge had the privilege of walking her aunt, Patricia Davis, out during introductions. She'll compete in her honor Friday.
"She will never forget that," Sledge said. "She's been a survivor for over 15 years, but she will never forget walking out on my arm. She comes to every pink meet, she'll be there this weekend with her pink on and she's super excited.
"The fact that I have someone personally in my family, I just love this meet."
Aside from her scare nine years ago, Patterson has been touched by breast cancer through family and friends. Her mother-in-law, Shirley Cook, is a survivor, as well as two former gymnasts—Annie Wilhide Dziadon and Allie Green Hayes —who were members of Patterson's first recruiting class at Alabama.
Though Alabama only hosts one of these meets a year, Patterson is constantly preaching the power of pink. One day, Patterson said a woman stopped her in the grocery store and asked, "Aren't you the pink lady?" The question had nothing to do with being a renowned gymnastics coach at Alabama or winning back-to-back national championships. It turned out the woman didn't have insurance and needed some help, so Patterson directed her to the DCH Breast Cancer Center.
Patterson is making waves across the country for breast cancer. She was recently invited by the Zeta Tao Alpha sorority to speak at their convention in Louisville about breast cancer, which is their main philanthropy. After she spoke, the sorority presented Patterson with a $25,000 check written to DCH.
"It was one of the most rewarding experiences since starting the Power of Pink," she said. "They're not even from Tuscaloosa, but this $25,000 goes to all disadvantaged women in Western Alabama."
Patterson's excitement for Friday's meet has extended to her athletes, who understand the significance of what they're honoring, and to the fans as a crowd well over 12,000 is expected.
"We haven't faced the pressures and the hardships people with breast cancer have gone through," said sophomore Kayla Williams, whose grandmother died of breast cancer years ago. "Our biggest worry is getting an A+ on a test, so it's nice to give back this way."
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