Katie Donnelly '09, Andrew McAward '15, Jeff Oliver & Michelle McGahan '15.
Holy Cross Athletics
Holy Cross Athletics
Katie Donnelly '09, Andrew McAward '15, Jeff Oliver & Michelle McGahan '15.

Benching Throughout The Years

Holy Cross Athletics   12-10-2015

By Catherine Rutter
Special to GoHolyCross.com

This year marks the eighth annual Benching for Breast Cancer (Friday, Dec. 11), an event that raises money and spreads breast cancer awareness. When Katie Donnelly (’09) was a senior, she worked for head strength and conditioning coach Jeff Oliver for her work study where she and assistant strength coach Jeremy Frisch thought of the event. “I have to admit, the idea for the event was not mine,” said Donnelly. “The assistant strength coach at the time Jeremy Frisch had mentioned that he thought it would be really cool to do a fundraiser for breast cancer and have it involve weight lifting.”

With that idea in mind, Donnelly immediately decided to take action. “I don't think Jeremy or Ollie realized that I would take the idea and run with it,” said Donnelly. “By the time Jeremy came back from his workout, I had the logo drawn up and a list of ideas on how to make it happen!”

When Donnelly was five years old, her grandmother died of breast cancer. “The cause has always been something very close to my heart,” Donnelly said. She knew that so many people had been directly and indirectly affected by cancer, so this was intended to be a fun event to support a good cause. “Benching for Breast Cancer was a unique way for the students to come together for a night of lifting, fun and friendly competition while supporting a worthy cause.”

The first year of Benching for Breast Cancer had a turn out of about 100 people. Last year, the event hosted over 600 people and is likely to continue to grow this year. “The fact that it has not only continued, but has grown and become a mainstay event on campus is amazing to me,” said Donnelly. The event comes back every year with more and more fervor and Donnelly is excited to see how far it has come. “I had the opportunity to attend last year's event; while standing in the middle of over 600 students, I was overcome with pride for what Benching for Breast Cancer had become and felt truly honored to be a part of such a special and inspiring community.”

Once Donnelly graduated, she left the event in the hands of then sophomore Madison Horl (’12) who ran the event for three years until she graduated. Horl looks back on the experience as being a collective effort with combined help from people all over campus. “This event was truly a team effort,” said Horl. “SAAC, HC for a Cure, Pink Revolution and every varsity team helped prepare and execute the event.” She adds that it made her happy to see the Benching for Breast Cancer shirts all around campus. “In the months following the event it was so nice to see the t-shirts pop up on Crusaders in Hogan, Kimball and Dinand.”

Speaking to the growth of the event, Horl thinks that its participation is still increasing yearly because of the Holy Cross community. “This event continues to expand each year because of the student leaders who step up and make Benching their own,” said Horl. “And I know he will hate this, but Coach Ollie is absolutely instrumental in the execution of the event; he is creative, supportive and makes the planning so much fun.”

Horl then left the event to both Michele Grenier (’13) and Elizabeth Watters (’13). The pair were appreciative to Horl who worked hard for three years on the event and trustingly left it in their willing hands. “Madison was amazing and did so much work on her own,” said Grenier. “When she graduated in 2012 there were big shoes to fill.” Watters added, “Madison was the best example of a dedicated leader for us. Her vision, combined with Ollie's enthusiasm and Ann Zelesky's big heart, really pioneered this event.”

The duo decided to focus on getting more people to attend Benching for Breast Cancer for their last year at Holy Cross. “My senior year, Elizabeth and I focused on increasing participation,” said Grenier. “We really pushed to get students to pre-register for the event. I still remember the night before we ran Benching when we realized we had doubled participation from the year before we were so excited!” Watters added, “The Holy Cross student body has shown time and time again how to passionately support a wonderful cause. It brings great joy to know that the passion and fight against breast cancer still remains strong.”

The event grew a lot due to Grenier and Watters’ dedication to increasing the participation. It means a lot to the two of them as Grenier was a member HC for a Cure and Watters’ mother is a breast cancer survivor. “This event hits a soft spot for me as my mom is a breast cancer survivor and she is who I aspire to be,” said Watters. Grenier added, “Raising awareness for breast cancer is a cause I hold close and I am so happy to see that Benching for Breast Cancer continues to thrive as an event that not only raises money and awareness but that also brings the Holy Cross and Worcester community together.”

The next duo to take control of the event were juniors Andrew McAward (’15) and Michelle McGahan (’15). The pair have both been immensely effected by the event at Holy Cross and finds the candle-lit prayer service to be a truly special tradition. McAward believes that it makes the fight against this disease “up close and personal” to those who attend the event as the students and faculty who have been directly affected by breast cancer are asked to hold a lighted pink candle. “This brief moment of solemn reflection unites the entire Holy Cross community in the dimly-lit room, as all the participants gather around those individuals holding pink candles in a physical sign of support for their personal hardships with breast cancer.”

Although planning the logistics of the event could be a lot to manage at times, McAward and McGahan thought that the candle-lit ceremony made it all worth it. “At times planning and running the event was stressful, but the moment that we shared to reflect on our our time together made all the work worth it,” said McGahan.

McAward remembers one moment in particular from last year’s ceremony as one of the survivors that attended the event came up to him. “She approached me with stretched out arms and tears in her eyes,” said McAward. “She gave me an emotional hug and simply said, ‘Thank you.’ After months of never-ending emails and telephone calls in an attempt to schedule each excruciating detail with my co-chair Michelle, her two words made every ounce of effort worth it.” 

McGahan holds a special place in her heart for the event as her mother died from breast cancer. “My mother passed away from breast cancer when I was 10 years old,” said McGahan. “Benching for Breast Cancer and HC for a Cure became a positive outlet for me to express myself and raise money and awareness for a cause that is very important to me.” McGahan feels that Benching for Breast Cancer helped her to express herself and meet people that have changed her forever. “Not only did it allow me to open up to the entire community, but it led me to people, like Ann Zelesky and other members of Pink Revolution, who have had a lasting impact on my life beyond Holy Cross.”

The event has also changed McAward forever, as he has now decided to follow a career path in healthcare. “Those two years that I worked with the athletic department, faculty and students for Benching for Breast Cancer truly solidified my desire to pursue becoming a healthcare provider after Holy Cross, despite graduating with an Economics degree,” said McAward. “Within a few weeks of graduation, I started working in oncology research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Benching has given me a small glance into the dramatic effects that a cancer diagnosis has on an individual and a family and I try to take this mindset with me each day while I work with patients at Dana-Farber.”

All of the previous chairs of Benching for Breast Cancer are excited with how far the event has come and anticipate it to continue to grow in the future. Donnelly is in awe that the event has continued to take place year after year. “I never imagined that Benching for Breast Cancer would still be happening eight years later,” said Donnelly. Horl adds, “Organizing Benching for Breast Cancer was one of the highlights of my time at Holy Cross, and I am so proud that the event has been successful over the years.” The event has grown substantially and Grenier remarks, “I am so glad to see the event continue to grow and the tradition is still alive.” Watters adds, “It is incredible to see this event flourish! It just shows what one small vision can turn into with hard work and big hearts!”  

McAward is excited to have left the event in the hands of junior Matt Liguori and sophomore Emma O’Brien. “Matt and Emma have certainly been working hard for this year's Benching night, and I am sure that it will be a fantastic event,” said McAward. “I can't thank the Holy Cross community enough for allowing me to be a part of such an amazing event,” said McGahan.

Benching for Breast Cancer has become a mainstay on campus thanks to the help of all of the past, present and future chairs of the event. These individuals have contributed so much to the Holy Cross community by lending their time, effort and hearts to a cause that means so much to so many. 

To register online for the event go to the Benching for Breast Cancer page here.

Preview of 2015 Benching For Breast Cancer

Check out the video recap from last year's Benching for Breast Cancer:

Video Recap

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