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Titan athletes are thinking pink.

On the 18-person gymnastics team at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, six team members have relatives who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Between the women’s basketball team and the indoor track and field roster, there are more than 20 additional connections to the disease.

“This is a staggering number,” said Lauren Mareno, head gymnastics coach at UW Oshkosh. “Someone needs to put up a fight for those who have been fighting breast cancer for so long.”

Breast cancer strikes without warning and can happen to anyone at anytime. Recognizing the deadly potential of the disease in themselves and loved ones, female athletes across UW Oshkosh are teaming up to take a stand against the number one form of cancer in women.

Beginning on Feb. 8, the UW Oshkosh women’s basketball, gymnastics, and track and field teams will dribble, flip, run, jump and throw during a two-week-long Think Pink! fundraiser for breast cancer research.

“Like athletes, breast cancer survivors have this incredibly powerful image of strength,” said Jenny Stein, a UW Oshkosh track and field heptathlete. “For us to bring three women’s sports together for breast cancer research — there are no words to describe the strength in that combination.”

The women’s basketball team began the Titan athlete’s push for breast cancer awareness in 2006 after former UW Oshkosh women’s basketball player and current graduate assistant coach Becky Knapp had a close family encounter with this disease.

Knapp’s mother, Kathy Knapp, was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2005.

“You just don’t know when it can happen or who it could happen to,” Knapp said. “Whether you’re affected personally or have to watch someone you know and love be diagnosed, it’s a painful experience.”

A four-year varsity forward for the Titans from 2004-2007, Knapp turned to her basketball family for support.

“When my mom was diagnosed, everyone was so supportive,” Knapp said. “Coach Kris Schoonover was especially supportive and helped to organize breast cancer awareness events through basketball.”

In just two years the women’s basketball team has collected more than $10,000 for the Susan G. Komen Foundation for breast cancer.

“Raising money for this cause has always been a big deal to this program,” said Jessica Abitz, co-captain of the women’s basketball team. “This year is no different.”

The only difference in 2008 will be the first-ever collaboration between women’s basketball, gymnastics, and track and field.

“This just goes to show how involved our athletes and our teams are in giving back to this community,” UW Oshkosh Athletic Director Al Ackerman said. “I’m delighted that our teams are taking the initiative to raise money for a cause that affects every one of us in some way.”

The 2008 Think Pink! Initiative at UW Oshkosh will begin when the Titan gymnasts wear pink ribbons on their leotards during a dual meet against UW Stout at 7 p.m. Feb. 8 in Kolf Sports Center. The Blue Devil gymnasts also will support the cause, and pink ribbons will be available to spectators at the door.

“We figured, if the basketball team can do it, so can we,” Mareno said. “Awareness is just as important as donation.”

Keeping donations in mind, however, the gymnasts will collect pledges for a Cartwheel-A-Thon to be held at halftime during the UW Oshkosh women’s basketball game versus UW La Crosse in Kolf Sports Center at 1 p.m. Feb. 9. Cartwheel-A-Thon donors can pledge a flat rate or donate a set amount per number of cartwheels performed in three minutes — up to 100 cartwheels.

“Our goal is to raise $45 per gymnast,” said gymnast Rachel Morrison, whose grandmother is currently in remission from being diagnosed with breast cancer 20 years ago. “If we meet this goal, we will be able to give a check for more than $800 to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. That’s powerful.”

The women’s basketball team will continue the two-week Think Pink! campaign by sporting pink T-shirts during warm-ups and pink shoelaces during the Feb. 9 game. Other Think Pink! activities include free T-shirts for the first 100 fans wearing pink and an action-packed halftime show featuring breast cancer survivors, a Deanna Farve book giveaway, the gymnast’s Cartwheel-A-Thon and a free-throw contest.

To conclude the breast cancer awareness events, the women’s track and field team will wear pink ribbons as they run, jump and throw at the UW Oshkosh Invitational on Feb. 16 in Kolf Sports Center.

The Think Pink! initiative is a global, unified effort for the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s (WBCA) nation of coaches to assist in raising breast cancer awareness on the court, across campuses, in communities and beyond. In 2007, more than 120 schools unified for this effort and helped make the inaugural year of the WBCA’s Think Pink! promotion a success.

The 2008 initiative has already unified over 600 women’s basketball teams for the cause.