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Continuing the fight

By Vickie Fulkerson

Publication: The Day

Published February 08. 2014 4:00AM
Dana Jensen/The Day
Blue Jays pitching coach and former East Lyme High School star Pete Walker, left, talks with former UConn basketball star Rebecca Lobo as Rajai Davis of the Tigers, the former New London High star, looks on after a press conference Friday night prior to the Connecticut Sports Foundation Against Cancer dinner at Mohegan Sun Casino.

Connecticut Sports Foundation holds its annual fundraiser

Mohegan - Pete Walker was deep in conversation with Rebecca Lobo, one Connecticut resident/former professional athlete to another, something which might never have happened if it were not for the Connecticut Sports Foundation Against Cancer.

Walker, pitching coach for the Toronto Blue Jays, and Lobo, the former UConn women's basketball star and now ESPN analyst, were guests at a press conference Friday prior to the foundation's 27th Annual Celebrity Dinner and Memorabilia held at Mohegan Sun.

Lobo, who became involved with the foundation last year, lost her mother RuthAnn to cancer in 2011. She had just heard Walker speak of his 14-year-old daughter Marissa, an eighth-grader at Clark Lane Middle School in Waterford who was diagnosed with osteosarcoma as a 9-year-old. Marissa Walker, now cancer free, has undergone multiple surgeries as she's grown to lengthen an expandable prosthetic which was placed in her leg.

"My mom was diagnosed in 1994. We were lucky to have her for 17 more years," Lobo said. "We were in a situation where we could still pay the mortgage; all she had to concentrate on was getting well. People need to be able to do that without thinking about anything else.

"... When you hear the stories about the people (the foundation helps), this is what an organization should be."

Locals John McDonald of the Los Angeles Angels, an East Lyme native, and Rajai Davis of the Detroit Tigers, a former New London star, were also in attendance at the press conference, along with Craig Breslow of the Boston Red Sox and Eduardo Nunez and Brendan Ryan of the New York Yankees.

Mystic's Matt Harvey of the New York Mets, as well as Mark Teixeira and David Phelps of the Yankees, were scheduled to attend the dinner portion of the event, with WFAN radio personality Mike Francesa as the master of ceremonies.

The Connecticut Sports Foundation, created in 1987 by New London native John Ellis, a former major league baseball player with the Yankees, Indians and Rangers, has granted more than $3.5 million to more than 4,000 Connecticut families dealing with the financial hardship that often follows a cancer diagnosis. Also, the foundation has donated more than $1.5 million to support cancer research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Lobo, who went on to play professionally in the WNBA, is a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. She and her husband, Sports Illustrated columnist Steve Rushin, live with their four children in Connecticut.

"I think about her all the time," said Lobo, who has partnered with Panera Bread to raise money for the foundation, speaking of her mother. "She's present in myself and my children. I think about her every day and everything she stood for.

"And then I think of the things where she wouldn't approve, like when my kids are on their second hour of 'Dora the Explorer.' 'Sorry, Mom, I have to get things done.'"

Walker's daughter, meanwhile, underwent surgery two weeks ago to receive her permanent knee and femur. Walker and his wife Kari live with their three children in Waterford.

"She was actually looking forward to the surgery," said Walker, on his way to spring training with the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla., next week, "which is amazing right there."

"Everybody has been touched by cancer. I lost a brother to cancer. ... It's a difficult discussion, not a discussion I would want anyone to have with their child (to tell he or she they have cancer), but it happens on a daily basis. It happens on an hourly basis. Just showing up here is the least I can do."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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