Women’s Basketball News

It’s halftime in the University of New Brunswick (UNB) Reds men’s basketball game and a group of varsity athletes files into the gymnasium towards a row of chairs.

Each player has a partner at hand behind their seats for the 2017-18 UNB Shoot for the Cure fundraising game and haircutting event, including women’s basketball player Krystal Osburn. Osburn takes her seat and within minutes her belly-button length hair is now grazing her shoulders at the hands of her mom and a pair of scissors.

Though all the athletes cutting their hair have their own story to tell, Osburn’s holds particular personal meaning this year. Just months prior, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Being away at school, Osburn had little opportunity to comfort and support her family.

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The haircut that day on UNB’s court was Osburn’s way of supporting her mother’s ongoing battle — a battle still being fought today.

“It was my way to almost give back to her because I missed so much of the initial shock of it all.”

Krystal Osburn

Throughout last season, Osburn’s mother underwent two surgeries for cancer in one of her breasts. Subsequent chemotherapy and radiation in the summer caused her to start losing her hair, which Osburn watched get shaved off by her aunt to stop it from falling out entirely.

“It was hard to see her go through it and me not being able to do anything for her other than just be there for support,” Osburn says. “It was probably one of the hardest experiences I’ve ever had to face in my 20 years of life.”

Since then, Osburn’s own connection to the Shoot for the Cure initiative has changed.

“After seeing somebody so close go through losing their hair, and (seeing) her go through buying a wig and me listening to her talk about how hard it was to sit down and look in the mirror and see somebody else’s hair on her…it just means so much more,” Osburn says. “If I can help someone else the way that I help my mom — the support — then I’ll cut (my hair as short as I have to…Giving money and cutting my hair, it all helps towards such a bigger cause — there’s so many other that people have been affected by (cancer) way worse than what I have.”

Her story is one of many across Canada that help drive the U SPORTS Shoot for the Cure initiative forward each year. Now in its 12th season, the women’s basketball fundraising campaign continues to raise money for the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) and other local charities from coast to coast, particularly with regard to breast cancer research, treatment and support.

Originally started by long-time Bishop’s women’s basketball head coach and current men’s bench boss Rod Gilpin, the initiative today includes all 47 U SPORTS women’s basketball programs across Canada — and several other sports too, some including men’s programs. It has raised over $1.25 million.

At its core, the initiative holds a similar story to that of Osburn. When two U SPORTS coaches, including former University of Victoria head coach Kathy Shields, were diagnosed with breast cancer around 2007, the idea to bring together various programs’ fundraising initiatives was born. Just prior, Shields was in her 23rd year of coaching basketball when she was forced to retire from her role after finding out about her diagnosis.

Today, she is one of Shoot for the Cure’s leading advocates.

“If you could’ve said 20 years ago that we were going to raise (over) $1 million...well that’s pretty amazing.”

Kathy Shields

Shields also explains that the two-fold nature of both educating and fundraising through the program makes it a unique initiative to be a part of.

“It doesn’t always hit home to everybody that we still haven't found a cure, so I think not only are we educating so many people, our fans and our students, but we’re also of course raising money to try and find the cure.”

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UNB women’s basketball head coach and Shoot for the Cure project manager Jeff Speedy was on board with the initiative from the very beginning. He has seen it grow from a handful of schools to a nationwide program, and today even sees former players spreading the support in their own communities.

“It’s more than just the money we raise,” Speedy says. “It’s all the other things that go along with it and hopefully a number of our student-athletes are touched by some of the stories they’ve heard.”

The continued creativity and eagerness to fundraise from schools makes this initiative that much more impactful, too. From coffee-bean counting jars to bake sales, teams across the country continue to step up their fundraising each year — including the likes of Osburn cutting her hair.

Going forward, it remains to be seen what the U SPORTS women’s basketball teams will do to raise funds in the following seasons. Be it pink uniforms, baked goods or otherwise, it seems as long as the basketball programs are around, so will Shoot for the Cure and hopefully the larger message the initiative hopes to portray.

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“As a coach I’ve won some league championships and some national championships, I’ve lost some national championship finals as well. All those nice wins I’ve had, I’d trade them in a heartbeat to make sure that my daughter, my wife, my best friend’s daughters never have to battle breast cancer,” Speedy says. “Hopefully the young women across the country realize that sport is important, but all of those other things are more important.”

For Osburn, she hopes to be a leader on UNB’s roster in terms of fundraising for Shoot for the Cure this year — thus continuing to support her mom in one of the best ways she knows how.

“I want to be the person that raises the most amount of money or just being super involved and showing everybody how important it really is — how important this cause is.”

Lucy_Fox.png (913 KB)Lucy is a fifth-year student in the Bachelor of Media Studies program at the University of British Columbia. Previously, she was a communications intern with the Vancouver Whitecaps and the social media lead with the Pat Quinn Classic, a local hockey tournament in Vancouver. Since 2017, she is the sports editor of her campus newspaper The Ubyssey and was named the 2017-18 winner of the U SPORTS Story of the Year Presented by The Globe and Mail.