Bulldogs Help Strikeout Cancer

April 12, 2013

By Lauren Albertson & Theresa Kurtz

FRESNO, Calif. - Fresno State softball is supporting a great cause April 12-14 during its three-game series against Boise State. The Bulldogs are taking part in Strikeout Cancer, which raises awareness for cancer.

The `Dogs have several events going on throughout the weekend, including a blood drive on Saturday, Locks of Love event on Saturday and ceremonial first pitches by cancer survivors. All of these events are to help create awareness to a cause that hits close to home.

Fresno State assistant coach Sara Pickering has been in remission for over 10 years. The team heard her story a few weeks back when they toured the Eller Blood Center and donated blood.

"I am really excited about this weekend. What Diane, Kiley Shae and the girls are doing with cutting their hair touches my heart," said Pickering. "Taking the team to visit and tour the Eller Blood center and donate blood was really great day. It was really cool to see people donate for the first time."

In 2000, Pickering was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. She began chemotherapy a week later and after three months she started radiation. She went into remission, but the cancer had come back. Pickering underwent a stem cell transplant and another round of chemotherapy.

"I had several blood transfusions when I was going through it," Pickering said. "One of the transfusions allowed me to travel with the team to Michigan for a regional. It gave me some energy that I needed."

At the time of her battle, Pickering was an assistant coach at Stanford. She continued to coach and days after doctors cleared Pickering to fly, the Cardinal earned their first Women's College World Series berth.

The Bulldogs' not only want to support their coach, but also make a difference in the lives of children faced with medical hair loss. After the game on Saturday night, a group will donate their own hair to Locks of Love.

Kiley Shae Aldridge, Diane Runge, Maria Sio and Taylor Langdon are all donating their hair along with assistant coach Carly Wynn and Boise State head coach Erin Thorpe. A total of 17 individuals will be cutting their hair.

Runge, who will be donating her hair to the cause for the second time, has a heart for her and her teammates to give back to an organization like Locks of Love.

"We're giving kids the self-confidence they need to be a little bit happier every day," Runge said.

When Aldridge and Runge approached Bulldog head coach Trisha Ford they received her full support and to their surprise they also received support from Mountain West rival Boise State whose coaching staff wanted to participate in the event.

"Of course we are going to take care of business on the field, but both teams recognize the good that community service does and the good that everyone can get out of this," said Aldridge. "Everyone will have that sense of satisfaction helping one another. We put the whole softball thing to the side to think about the community and the people around us."

Runge and Aldridge organized the event. Ford told the team that if something was important to them that they would support it, which got the wheels turning for Runge and Aldridge. The planning began in the summer of 2012 when the two initially started talking about wanting to donate.

"I think that hair is such a thing of beauty now and for us to give up something like that, I think it's a huge thing for us," said Runge. "And for the community to come out and support us, is big."

Locks of Love is a non-profit organization that provides less fortunate children suffering from medical hair loss with hairpieces made from donated hair. Their mission is to provide children suffering from medical hair loss with the confidence and self-esteem to face the world and their peers.

Also returning to Bulldog Diamond is Rachael Donaldson, a former Bulldog and cancer survivor. Donaldson will throw out the first pitch on Saturday. She played for the Bulldogs from 2004-05. Donaldson was diagnosed as stage IV soft-tissue sarcoma following the 2005 season.

"When I heard Rachael's story I was coaching at UNLV," recalled Pickering. "We were playing at the same tournament and I introduced myself to her. It was awesome to see her out there supporting her team. She is now a nurse at the hospital my sister works at. They got to talking and it ended up being a small a world. Since, I reached out to her as the whole staff has done with a lot of our alumni and called to see if she wanted to come back, which she did."

There is still time for people to participate in any of the events this weekend. Fans can sign up at the games to donate their hair or give blood before the game on Saturday.

"Discover Fresno State Athletics!" -- Bulldog softball hosts Boise State for a three-game Mountain West series April 12-14. Catch the action on ESPN 790 The Deuce, home Bulldog softball. Stay connected with the Bulldogs on Facebook (fresnostateathletics) and Twitter (@FSAthletics).