Alabama Gymnastics Power Of Pink

Power of Pink

DCH Foundation | DCH Breast Cancer Fund | Power of Pink Luminary Sales

Pink shakers, pink shirts, even the occasional pink boa - once a season, everyone puts on their best pink outfits, grabs their favorite pink accessories and heads to Coleman Coliseum for a gymnastics meet. The pink isn't as much a fashion statement, but a show of support for Sarah Patterson's Power of Pink initiative, sponsored by Tuscaloosa Toyota, now in its eighth year.

It started with a simple idea. Sarah Patterson wanted to help raise awareness for the fight against breast cancer, a disease that has touched the lives of so many women around the world.

"I realize that I am very lucky," Patterson said. "Not only to be healthy, but also that I have access to excellent medical care. Not everyone is so fortunate, and I wanted to do something that would help those who need it most."

So she picked Alabama vs. Auburn on Feb. 4, 2005, and designated it as the "Drive 4 the Cause" meet. She asked everyone to mark the date and to "Think Pink, Wear Pink."

Since that first meet, the numbers have been staggering. Over the past seven years more than 100,000 fans have filled Coleman Coliseum with pink for the annual event, including an Alabama and Southeastern Conference record 15,162 fans in 2006 and matching sell-outs of 15,075 in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.

"I have been so amazed at how the community has responded to this, how it has been embraced at every turn and how it continues to grow day-by-day," Patterson said.

Within the UA athletics department the event has grown from gymnastics to other sports to the point where Alabama Athletics' Power of Pink, sponsored by Tuscaloosa Toyota, has events three times a year, one in the fall, one in the winter and one in the spring when UA women's teams host events.

The Power of Pink has gone beyond UA athletics and Tuscaloosa, exploding into a nation-wide cause. Since the Crimson Tide hosted its first meet in 2005, more than three dozen of the nation's top gymnastics programs have either hosted or participated in a "pink" meet, including every member of the Southeastern Conference. The Women's Basketball Coaches Association started its pink initiative in 2007, encouraging its members to participate in a "Think Pink" week that has now evolved into the WBCA's "Pink Zone."

There have been similar efforts in women's soccer and volleyball at the collegiate level as well. Even the NFL and Major League Baseball have gotten into the act with NFL players wearing pink gloves, chinstraps and shoes during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October and MLB players using pink bats on Mother's Day in a show of support in the fight against breast cancer.

"When I look around at all the meets and events and how this has spread through the sports world, it is an unbelievable feeling," Patterson said. "It's such a vital cause and these events really bring attention to the fight that goes on every day. I can't help but smile when I'm out grocery shopping, or working out, or where ever I am, and I see someone wearing a Tuscaloosa Toyota Power of Pink T-shirt, and there is rarely a day that goes by when I don't see someone wearing one, because that tells me that the message continues long after the event is over."

This year, Alabama will host its eighth "Drive 4 the Cause" meet Friday, Feb. 17 when the Arkansas Razorbacks come to Coleman Coliseum with their pink leotards.

"We have this amazing platform at Alabama and I knew that it was something that we could use to help the women of this community," she said. "If just one woman comes to our meets and is helped by what we're doing, then it's all been worth it."

While those around her sing her praises for all she has done in the community, especially in the fight against breast cancer, Patterson says she receives so much more than she gives.

"I am so fortunate to not only be in a position where I can offer this help," she said. "But to be able to work with so many wonderful, dynamic people who are out there every day making a difference in this community is truly amazing. I draw on their enthusiasm and spirt."

From the beginning, support for Patterson's Power of Pink initiative was swift and widespread. She started to talk to the leaders in the Tuscaloosa community about her idea and everyone she talked to got on board, offering advice and support.

"So many people have worked extremely hard and put in long hours for this worthy cause, this vital fight," Patterson said. "What we all realize is that as Coach Paul Bryant was fond of saying 'The price of victory is high, but so are the rewards.' I can think of no greater reward, no better return on the investment of time and resources so many have put forth, than beating this disease."

Among those who joined with Patterson in the early days of the Power of Pink initiative was Larry O'Neal, who was DCH's Vice President of Development at the time. O'Neal not only encouraged her when she first brought the idea for the cause to him, but immediately went to work to support her efforts.

"I will always be grateful to Larry O'Neal, for listening to me and my vision for this event and believing in me and the power of dreams," Patterson said. "Without Larry, none of this would have been possible."

Through the auspices of O'Neal and the DCH Regional Medical Center the DCH Breast Cancer Fund was set up within the DCH Foundation. The fund is designed to provide disadvantaged women with the means for early detection and treatment of breast cancer.

"Every three minutes a woman in the United States is diagnosed with breast cancer, but how many women experience problems that go undetected due to a lack of knowledge or limited financial abilities to undergo testing?" Patterson said. "After watching first hand as friends, family members and loved ones deal with the impact of this disease, I felt it was important to use our sport, its visibility, and this event as a platform to help raise the awareness of breast cancer and how women can protect themselves from this disease."

Patterson also found a more than willing partner in local businessman David DeSantis, the co-owner of Tuscaloosa Toyota.

"We have come so far because of the vision of David DeSantis," Patterson said. "He is without a doubt the most charitable businessman that I have ever been associated with. Everyone that has been associated with this endeavor will tell you that David's drive and can-do spirit has been a driving force for the Power of Pink."

Tuscaloosa Toyota's involvement has grown to the point where it is the sponsor of Alabama Athletics' overall Power of Pink initiative which includes all women's sports and nine events during the 2011-12 academic year.

Media coverage of the Alabama gymnastics team's Power of Pink campaign has been extensive to say the least. Five times The Tuscaloosa News has done a special "Gameday" section on the "pink" meet" as well as providing Alabama front-page exposure the next day. And in October of 2010, the entire Birmingham News went pink, not only producing a slate of stories on the fight against breast cancer, including a story on Patterson's Power of Pink efforts, but every page was printed on pink paper as well.

"Tom Arenberg, the sports editor of the Birmingham News, explained what they were going to do, so I knew what was coming, but when I actually saw the paper ... it was just incredible," Patterson said of the pink edition.

The coverage has not only been state-wide, with stories in all Alabama's daily papers and on TV news broadcasts, but nation-wide as well. USAToday has featured the meet extensively and for three years in a row, the Alabama gymnastics program was featured in Time magazine as part of Toyota's ad campaign that recognizes dealerships making an impact in the community.

"To be in Time was certainly amazing," Patterson said. "But most importantly, it is yet another way to get the word out about our fight against breast cancer."

The Power of Pink continues to grow every day, and because of the way Tuscaloosa has taken to the Power of Pink, women in the West Alabama community have someone in their corner in the fight against breast cancer.

"Coach Sarah Patterson's Power of Pink gymnastics meets have provided a highly visible vehicle to raise funds for a very worthy cause - The DCH Breast Cancer Fund," O'Neal said. "Through her efforts and initiative the DCH Foundation established the Breast Cancer Fund in December 2004. Because of her vision and passion in fighting breast cancer, lives will be saved. What better legacy can one create during a lifetime?"