Joe Vicario knows how to battle. Start with his birth defect, Goldenhar syndrome, which left him without a left ear, left lung and left thumb and with a malformed aortic heart valve. It led to 28 surgeries before age 12.
Now jump ahead two decades to an emergency room visit, when Vicario, the Rochester Institute of Technology men’s hockey equipment manager, was diagnosed with testicular cancer. It would be another battle – yet this winter, after two surgeries to treat the disease, he and his hockey family went on the offensive against it.
On Feb. 7 against Niagara, the Tigers wore jerseys with the catch phrase “Check Your Pucks,” which urged young men to be aware of their risks for testicular cancer. An auction for those jerseys during the game – on a night in which Vicario participated in the ceremonial opening puck drop and received a rousing ovation from the 3,205 fans – raised more than $10,000 for the Testicular Cancer Foundation of Western New York, which Vicario founded, and the Lipson Cancer Center at Rochester General Hospital. Niagara coach David Burkholder also presented Vicario with a jersey signed by his team.
“It feels like a million bucks to me, like winning the lottery,” Vicario said about the event. “It’s not about the money. It’s about getting the word out about testicular cancer.”
Involving his hockey team was a natural start. Vicario thinks of the Rochester Institute of Technology players and coaches as extended family after working with them for five years. Many teammates visited him regularly when he missed a season to undergo treatments.
Now cancer-free for two years, Vicario will receive his applied computer technology degree this spring. He and his teammates produced a night that felt like a major victory to a man already familiar with hard-fought wins. Through his ordeal, he learned even men in their teens should conduct weekly self-examinations – a message that has long informed women about breast cancer. Vicario wants to help men be less self-conscious about the disease and know that “checking their pucks” is a simple way to keep cancer out of the net.
More Acts of Kindness
Got them covered: As the University of Kentucky men’s basketball program rose to the top of the polls in December, one of its players was leading a drive toward a different type of victory. Marcus Lee, a Wildcats forward and Kentucky’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee treasurer, joined Kentucky’s SAAC president, women’s tennis player Grace Trimble, in organizing 250 Wildcats to make blankets for patients at Kentucky Children’s Hospital and a local Salvation Army Boys and Girls club. The student-athletes volunteered at least one hour each to make the 106 blue-and-white blankets with the school logo and Wildcats mascot.
School’s in: Eleven Clark University (Massachusetts) student-athletes spent their winter break giving instead of receiving. During nine days in the Dominican Republic as part of the Clark Athletics Service Learning Trip, they worked with members of an impoverished community constructing cinder-block walls to expand an elementary school. In the afternoons and evenings, they also got to know the children who will soon benefit from their work.
“I think each trip is just an eye-opening experience,” said Courtney Pharr, a sophomore on Clark’s women’s volleyball team, who led the group. “It just gives student-athletes a broader perspective of different communities and different ways of life and makes us aware of how lucky we are.”
Teaming up against violence: As stories of athletes’ involvement in domestic and sexual violence cases emerged in recent months, several Saint Martin’s University student-athletes started wondering how the public might perceive male athletes like themselves. So they united to strike back.
Their group, Saints Against Violence Everywhere, is working to prevent domestic and other forms of violence and help those who don’t feel safe in their community. They’ve raised money at Saint Martin’s athletics events to benefit a local shelter for domestic violence survivors, raising several hundred dollars each time. They teamed with a local Boys and Girls Club to work with local youths. And they’ve appeared on a YouTube video pledging to protect victims of violent acts because “no one deserves to stand alone.”