Denver, CO. Lung cancer survivor–advocate Kim Ringen was the top fundraiser in Team Draft’s Lung Cancer Survivors Super Bowl Challenge. Kim and her husband, Davin, represented Team Draft at Super Bowl 50 and the 25th annual Taste of the NFL the first weekend in February.
“Having the opportunity to be apart of the Lung Cancer Super Bowl challenge has been a fun and exciting experience. It is about spreading awareness about this beast of a disease…and the cherry on top is to be in the stands of the biggest football game of the year!!”
The Super Bowl Challenge participants were part of a friendly competition, with the top fundraisers awarded trips to Super Bowl 50, the NFL Pro-Bowl and the Taste of the NFL. Kim and the other winners, announced on January 4, 2016, will have an opportunity to share their powerful stories with key individuals with influence from across the country.
Opening day of the (LCSC) challenge my health declined and I was hospitalized…some would say that the timing was less than ideal – I say the timing was perfect!!! Rather than laying in the hospital bed constantly wondering if I was going to make it through… We were on our phones launching our campaign via social media spreading the word about the importance of research funding.
The LCSC gave me a gift…as I was wheeled in and out of different diagnostic and surgical procedures we would get updates on our phones that yet another donation and encouraging comment had came through…This was such an uplifting experience in a time that would have been considered very mentally draining. After having a large wedge of my lung surgically removed I felt my inner fight grow stronger. I have considered myself a fighter throughout these last 2.5 years – but honestly just before the (LCSC) challenge began I felt a drain in my mental stamina…I fully believe the LCSC and the generous loving support from my friends and family ignited my spark..my fight!!! And that is what is keeping me alive!!!
I choose Life!!!!!
Thank you Chris Draft Family Foundation! ~ KImberly Ringen
The survivors that raised over $1,000 were able to designate a beneficiary for 50% of their funds raised. Kim designated the Lung Cancer Colorado Fund at UC Health as her beneficiary.
Team Draft was founded by NFL veteran Linebacker Chris Draft and his late wife Keasha, an engineer and Clemson graduate who died of lung cancer at the age of 38.
“Super Bowl and Pro Bowl week are a fitting time to spotlight the crusade to change the face of lung cancer. The level of commitment, drive and passion required to make it this far parallels the efforts required to get lung cancer research to the next level,” said Chris Draft who co-founded Team Draft with his late wife Keasha to change the face of lung cancer.
Keasha and Chris Draft had attended the Super Bowl the year of her diagnosis, fulfilling one of her lifelong dreams. The memory of that Super Bowl trip served as part of the inspiration for The Super Bowl Challenge. “It takes a team to tackle lung cancer, and the Super Bowl Challenge has expanded this amazing team. Keasha’s legacy of hope lives on through the Super Bowl Challenge team and we are grateful to all who have contributed and continue to contribute to lung cancer awareness, research, treatment and patient advocacy efforts, and “said Draft. “We are excited to have the opportunity to take this year’s Super Bowl Challenge winners and their stories to the Super Bowl the Pro-Bowl and the Taste of the NFL.”
About the Super Bowl
The day on which the Super Bowl is played, now considered by some an unofficial American national holiday, is called “Super Bowl Sunday“. It is the second-largest day for U.S. food consumption, after Thanksgiving Day. In addition, the Super Bowl has frequently been the most-watched American television broadcast of the year; the four most-watched broadcasts in U.S. television history are Super Bowls. In 2015, Super Bowl XLIX became the most-watched American television program in history with an average audience of 114.4 million viewers, the fifth time in six years the game had set a record, starting with the 2010 Super Bowl, which itself had taken over the number-one spot held for 27 years by the final episode of M*A*S*H. The Super Bowl is also among the most-watched sporting events in the world, almost all audiences being North American, and is second to soccer‘s UEFA Champions League final as the most watched annual sporting event worldwide
For one cancer patient, a Super Bowl fitting for her fight
If it was a Hollywood script, it would be criticized for being too far-fetched. A cancer patient gets inspired to fight against her prognosis by her favorite NFL team, which, despite doubters and critics, makes it all the way to the Super Bowl.
Between rounds of chemotherapy, she flies to the big game with the help of a wheelchair and oxygen, meets one of her football idols who lost his sister to cancer and then sees her team defy the odds to win it all.
Yet Kimberly Ringen’s tale is not a movie script. The 38-year-old from Denver won a Super Bowl trip due to her inspirational fund-raising efforts while battling lung cancer, which she acquired through a genetic condition despite having never smoked a cigarette in her life.
Ringen’s cancer is still growing and she was told back in 2013 that she had between one and three years to live. But she likens her struggle to that of her beloved Broncos, one that culminated in ultimate victory against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
“Victory is not always pretty,” she told USA TODAY Sports by telephone. “When one part isn’t working so well, another part of the team steps up. When the Broncos offense was finding it hard, the defense stood up. When my natural defenses are struggling, we have to go on the offense against the cancer.”
The idol she met? Broncos general manager John Elway, who lost his twin sister Jana to lung cancer in 2002 and was introduced to Ringen and her husband Davin at the owner’s party. His message to her was this, “we’ll win one for you on Sunday.”
Ringen feels the power of football. She lives with it and through it daily. She had one round of high dosage chemotherapy a day before boarding the plane to the Bay Area and is soon due another. It is hoped that the chemo will stop the cancer from growing and enable her get to into clinical trials and undergo modern procedures like immunotherapy.
Her journey was made possible through the Chris Draft Foundation, set up by the former NFL linebacker of the same name. Draft lost his wife Keasha, an engineer and Clemson grad, to lung cancer in December 2011. At their wedding a month earlier, Keasha, deeply unwell, asked for money to be donated to the foundation in lieu of gifts.
Draft had taken Keasha to the 2011 Super Bowl in Dallas and seen how the excitement and energy uplifted her, despite her favorite team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, falling short against the Green Bay Packers.
He now works with cancer centers nationwide to spearhead the Lung Cancer Survivors Super Bowl Challenge, where those affected by the disease compete to raise money for awareness and medical innovation.
Ringen raised more than $24,000 to win the top prize, a Super Bowl trip including tickets to the game for her and Davin.
Since losing his wife, Draft has worked tirelessly to erase the stigma surrounding lung cancer as a “smoker’s disease.” Many sufferers acquire a genetic version of the cancer that has no correlation with smoking whatsoever.
“I don’t need to go back and tackle a man again,” said Draft, who played for six teams in 12 seasons after being drafted out of Stanford in the sixth round in 1998. “What I want is to take that effort and energy and tackle lung cancer and the way people think about it. I want to show the stories of our people who live with it, because they are inspirational.”
Lung cancer afflicts more people in North America than breast, colon and prostate cancer combined. It has a survival rate of around 17% and such things naturally prey on the mind of sufferers, as well as the side effects of treatment.
That’s where football and the Broncos give Ringen a helping hand.
“I draw strength from them,” she said. “When the season comes around is the only time I don’t realize I have cancer. It is nice to be able to take a break from that, lose myself in the football, cheer for someone else.”
Ringen is a trained veterinary oncologist who realized she had cancer when she examined lymph nodes along her collarbone with an ultrasound machine she would normally use on dogs and cats. She was five months pregnant at the time and lost her unborn son as a result of the cancer.
Determined to fight and maintaining high hopes that developments in treatment give her a greatly increased chance of survival, Ringen had the Super Bowl prize all wrapped up before the playoffs even started.
“Once I won the prize I would have gone to the game anyway and worn my Peyton Manning jersey,” she said. “But this is like a dream.”
Through the postseason, a local news segment gave Ringen some fame among Broncos fans, some of whom adopted her as a lucky charm.
“People would come up to me and say how happy they were for me and that I would be taking the Broncos along for the ride,” she added, her voice hoarse from so much Sunday evening shouting. “This is the perfect way for it to end.”
Draft spent two years with the Carolina Panthers, but after seeing Ringen’s love for the Broncos and resilience in the face of adversity, there was only one team he could root for.
“Everyone who fights against cancer is a winner,” Draft said. “She is a big winner – and she got to see her team win the biggest game of all.”
Follow Martin Rogers on Twitter @mrogersUSAT.