VAIL — Russ Lacoste was on a casual trip three years ago when he stumbled upon an unexpected scene at Vail Mountain. Hundreds of people flocked to the slopes, skiing and snowboarding clad in pink. Some were sporting head-to-toe costumes, others wore feathers, many donned placards and carried signs bearing names and dedications to loved ones lost to cancer. Like a collective swirl of profound, contagious energy, the group tethered nearly every passerby to its cause.
The sad reality is that with nearly 8 million individuals losing their lives to cancer every year, nearly everybody has some connection. Lacoste certainly does, having lost both his mother and best friend to the horrid disease.
But here were hundreds of people trying to do something about it. On skis and snowboards, no less. The force of Pink Vail struck Lacoste square in the heart, and he immediately wanted to be a part of it.
“It was so cool to see it because people who ski — with rare exception — have disposable income. I firmly believe that people with money have an obligation to help people in need,” said Lacoste, who lives in South Carolina. “You hear about doing triathlons and having auctions to raise money for cancer. I had never heard of combining it with skiing. You can only do so many things in your life. I felt a real bond for helping out.”
When Pink Vail rolled around again this past year, Lacoste, 63, and his two daughters made the pilgrimage to Vail to be among the 1,200-plus volunteers. The three worked a booth selling lanyards and wristbands. Lacoste describes the experience as “a blast.” Altogether, the event raised more than $330,000 for Shaw Regional Cancer Center in Edwards, an award-winning facility famous for its effective but uplifting and loving approach to treating all forms of cancer.
REMEMBERING LOST LOVED ONES
This year, Lacoste and one of his daughters will be back for Pink Vail on April 5 and plan to make placards commemorating his mother, who lost her life to brain cancer, and his best friend Marty, who lost a painful bout with stomach cancer. During a recent visit in March, Lacoste visited Shaw and felt an additional wave of fervor for his mission at Pink Vail.
“It’s pretty impressive. I don’t know how they do it. It was like watching the people take care of Marty. They’re incredible people,” he said.
Marty was Lacoste’s cousin and the two grew up in close quarters — in a small garden apartment in New York City. “He was as close as a brother could be,” said Lacoste, describing how the two boys spent their childhood together, then went off to separate colleges. They devised a plan to become business partners, which they did upon graduation. They successful founded American Bank Note Holographics and put the security hologram on Mastercard and Visa credit cards along with the creation and application of a hologram to the covers of three National Geographic’s magazines that they eventually managed to sell the business. But about seven years ago, Marty came down with stomach cancer. He fought it valiantly through several jarring ups and downs for two years before passing away at the age of 54.
“He agonized and fought longer than he should have. I’ve had lots of friends along the way fight similar battles,” Lacoste said. “As a parent of two girls and now two grandsons, I can’t bare to think of a young person having to go through it. What’s hard about cancer is there are so many different types. They all seem to be manifesting in different diseases. It’s tricky to solve when you have all of these maladies. It’s a staggering problem, and that’s why you need to raise lots of money to pay attention to as many cancers as you can. There’s really a lot of work to be done.”
PINK VAIL — How to get involved
Registration is $25 and open to individuals and teams. Much like seeking sponsors to run a race or embark on a long journey, the objective is similar but easier on your part — to get as many family members and friends to donate funds for your April 5 ski day at Vail. On April 5, festivities begin at 8:30 a.m. at Eagle’s Nest at the top of Vail Mountain and include a costume party, live music, the Spirit Rally and Ski Down. Prizes are given for best costumes and most lucrative fundraisers. For more information, visit www.pinkvail.com.