CSU freshman basketball player David Roddy shares a moment with Kimberly Gagnon who completed six and a half weeks of radiation treatments for breast cancer.
If you were watching your first Colorado State University men’s basketball game on Jan. 22 when the Rams beat Fresno State 86-68 at Moby Arena, you likely would have walked away thinking, “Wow, that Gagnon kid is a really good player.”
After all, the Ram with “Gagnon” on the back of his jersey simply dominated that night, scoring a career-best 26 points while adding eight rebounds and a thunderous dunk near the end that drew gasps from the crowd and left the rim at Moby trembling for several seconds.
Here’s the thing: That Gagnon kid was actually David Roddy, CSU’s standout freshman forward. Neither he, nor any of his teammates, wore jerseys with their own names that night. Instead, to honor the nationwide Coaches vs. Cancer initiative, they wore the names of 14 area “cancer warriors” to honor their battle against the all-too-familiar disease.
“It was a really special night for me,” Roddy said. “Once you start playing for others, and not just yourself, that’s when your game gets elevated. I was there to represent something bigger than myself, bigger than the team, and I think that’s what helped me play so well.”
“It was a really special night for me. Once you start playing for others, and not just yourself, that’s when your game gets elevated.”
— CSU freshman basketball player David Roddy
While Coaches vs. Cancer has been around for 25 years and has raised millions of dollars for cancer research, CSU is believed to be the first school to honor those battling the disease by wearing their names on game jerseys. And CSU’s commitment went well beyond that unique act: A week before the game, players and coaches toured UCHealth’s Cancer Center in Fort Collins and got to meet the patients they were honoring.
Among those was Kimberly Gagnon, a wife and mother of four who completed six and a half weeks of radiation treatments for breast cancer the day before Thanksgiving. She called the entire experience – meeting Roddy and then watching him play while wearing her name on his jersey – “incredibly special.”
“We were so honored to be part of everything, and the game was the icing on the cake,” said Gagnon. “After going through all of my treatments and the anxiety and the emotions, this was the best thing I could have asked for. It was a huge honor to be part of it.”
Coach Niko Medved worked with his staff and others at CSU to devise a unique way to honor cancer patients. He wanted to give the players an idea of what patients go through during treatment.
“Our university has a great partnership with UCHealth, and we wanted to do something locally that would have an impact on local people dealing with cancer,” the second-year coach said. “Going to the cancer center and meeting them was when our guys really started to understand what these people go through. It’s an amazing facility, and we’re so blessed to have a place like that with so many dedicated doctors and nurses.
“Honestly, this was one of the coolest things I’ve ever been part of as a coach.”
Roddy, who’s studying health and exercise science, and Gagnon, who moved to Fort Collins six years ago from San Diego, had an instant connection when they first met at the cancer center.
“I was a mess, crying through the whole thing,” Gagnon said. “David came over and gave me a huge hug – like he sensed that I needed that hug. He’s only 18 years old – just a kid – but I could tell in that moment that he has a huge heart. I want to write his parents and tell them what a great job they did in raising their son.”
“I was a mess, crying through the whole thing. David came over and gave me a huge hug – like he sensed that I needed that hug. He’s only 18 years old – just a kid – but I could tell in that moment that he has a huge heart.”
— Kimberly Gagnon
Gagnon wasn’t the only one of the cancer warriors who walked away feeling very loved after the experience. One described it as a “Make a Wish moment” and all talked about how impressed they were with the character of the players.
“My player was (freshman point guard Isaiah Stevens, who scored 21 points that night), and he was such a sweet young man when I met him after the game,” said Lori Lott, who works for UCHealth and lives with her family on a farm near Loveland. She finished her 33 rounds of radiation treatment for breast cancer in December. “The whole night was so humbling and heartwarming, and I feel like I have a real connection. I would love to get to know Isaiah better because I’m definitely a big fan of his and the team.”
More good feelings
The Rams are not finished spreading the good feelings. The CSU women’s team will honor another group of cancer warriors at their Feb. 15 “Pink Out” game against Wyoming. And both teams will have a chance to reconnect with their new friends at an upcoming event when the framed jerseys – yes, they will be laundered first – will be given to their warriors.
“It so was great to be part of this,” said sophomore computer science major Adam Thistlewood, who scored 15 points that night. “Coach Medved likes to remind us that basketball is such a small part of life, that basketball is what we do, not who we are. Playing with someone else’s name on my back really put that into perspective, and made me realize how fortunate I am for everything I’ve got.”