For all the possible pitfalls inherent in social media, the best athlete accounts provide rare windows into their lives, serious or funny or whatever in between. Snapshots of the locker room. Videos in their dormitories. Maybe Seth Allen munches watermelon. Maybe Nick Faust hits a golf ball. Or maybe the entire Maryland men’s basketball team poses together, joining one teammate’s fight to raise awareness for ovarian cancer.
The T-shirts in the above photo were brought into the locker room by Jacob Susskind, a Terrapins walk-on from New Jersey whose friends started the supportive hashtag “#SusskindTime.” Seven years ago, Jacob Susskind’s mother, Shari-Beth, learned she had ovarian cancer, a disease she found out about and promptly beat, all before her oldest son returned from sleep-away camp that summer.
Jacob was around 13 years old at the time, a young budding basketball player in West Orange, N.J., when his parents sat him down for dinner and broke the news. She worked as a personal trainer and recognized ovarian cancer’s relatively benign symptoms early on: bloating, pelvic pain, trouble eating. The doctors found it early, at Stage 1A. So at 41 years old, Shari-Beth underwent a complete hysterectomy, eradicating the disease without chemotherapy. Her ordeal wasn’t quite over when Jacob came home from camp — they were still running tests and she had another surgery after he returned — but it might as well have been.
“I think it was supposed to be a month- to two-month recovery of actually getting back on your feet and working,” Jacob said. “She was up on her feet at two weeks and working at three.”
A go-getting mother of three, Shari-Beth felt inspired to do something, so she started attending meetings of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition to raise awareness for the disease. The meetings were filled with people much older than she, borderline senior citizens who had lost significant others to ovarian cancer. One day, she walked into the room and asked if anybody considered running a five-kilometer race. They encouraged her to try, but never expected Shari-Beth to march in the next week and announce the official formation of the Mayor’s 5K Run/Walk to Break the Silence on Ovarian Cancer.
The town of West Orange already had a run, but it rarely raised more than $5,000 and attracted around 50 runners each year. So Shari-Beth contacted the Downtown West Orange Alliance, which partnered with the NOCC and planned a tough route on Main Street, uphill and downhill, straight down on past the bakeries and barbershops. They found a band, the Mood Swings, because one of their singers survived ovarian cancer, too. Shari-Beth set a goal that first year to raise $50,000, so she took Jacob’s bar-mitzvah invitation list and sent letters to everyone.
“It was crazy,” she said. “It worked. Year after year, people come. People come for all different reasons. People come to support me. People come because it’s fun exercise, people come because they lost somebody to ovarian cancer, or they know somebody in treatment, or they like to run.”
In seven years they’ve raised around $600,000, sending most to the NOCC to help spread the word. Shari-Beth’s two younger sons, Ben and Noah, raised funds for their bar-mitzvah projects, though Shari-Beth also solicits via a donation Web site and social media. (She tweeted me the picture. That’s how this story came to be.) The numbers have swelled, too, anywhere from 700 to 1,000 runners flooding down Main Street every September, which is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
“I don’t think about it a lot, but when I do it gives me the chills,” Jacob Susskind said last week by phone. “I’m so happy she’s still there, and I know that if I’m having any trouble, I can accomplish something because she did the same thing.”
Jacob will miss this year’s event, held on Sept. 29. He hasn’t asked his teammates to donate yet, because posts and re-posts of that picture on Instagram are enough for now. The Terps begin preseason practices this Friday, but if they can take the day off to run the 5K, Shari-Beth has given them a standing invitation: She offered to host everyone for a sleepover.