Kids with cancer soar on Steamboat’s slopes |

Kids with cancer soar on Steamboat’s slopes

Mike McCollumSteamboat Springs Pilot & TodayVail, CO Colorado
Brian Ray/Steamboat Springs Pilot & TodaySnowboarders Kevin Anthony, left, Bobbi Bentz, center, and Chris Rodriguez ride a Steamboat Springs' chairlift. Anthony and Rodriguez visited the mountain with a group for kids being treated for cancer.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS At the age of 4, Christopher Rodriguez was diagnosed with stage-four Burkitts lymphoma, a highly aggressive form of cancer.After enduring radiation and chemotherapy treatments throughout his childhood, he was unable to shake the disease. Rodriguez, now 16, was recently diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system.But while strapping into his snowboard atop Mt. Werner on Wednesday, the Camden, N.J., resident was able to put the illness out of his mind.Im actually doing a lot better Im hanging in there, he said. But its a lot of fun to come to Colorado to snowboard.Rodriguez was one of 31 teenagers and young adults who visited Steamboat Springs recently for the 21st annual Sunshine Kids Winter Games. The Sunshine Kids Foundation is a national nonprofit organization based in Houston that gives youths with cancer an opportunity to participate in fun, group activities, free of charge.For the third consecutive year, the Sunshine Kids came to Steamboat for a week of food, skiing and other activities, such as tubing and snowmobiling.Ive never snowboarded a day in my life, Rodriguez said. Ive caught on real fast. Its fun, but the hardest part to be honest was learning the toe side. Ive got the hill side, but if I get the toe side Id be a lot better.The Steamboat trip is one of many led by the Sunshine Kids Foundation to destinations across the United States, including an upcoming trip to Hawaii.They are week-long activities that are designed to get children out of the hospital environment and to give them the chance to get away from the treatments, said Jennifer Wisler, the foundations director of children services. And its also the opportunity to meet kids their age from other areas that are also experiencing cancer treatment.

As Rodriguez worked on his toe side technique, Kevin Anthony, 17, also was cutting some turns on the mountain. Anthony, from Salem, Conn., is battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma.The two teenagers were paired for the week with Steamboat Ski Area snowboard instructor Bobbi Bentz, who said Rodriguez and Anthony were fast learners.They have such a good attitude, and you can tell they are just so excited to be here, she said. Theres been no complaints and they are always positive just good attitudes. They are fun, and I dont know if Ive laughed so hard in lessons as I have this week.Anthony was diagnosed with cancer in April 2006, after discovering a lump on his neck and experiencing fatigue during baseball practices. He has been undergoing chemotherapy for two years, including active therapy during his trip to Steamboat.Ive got to take a rest every few runs, said Anthony, whose cancer is in remission and is expected to finish chemotherapy in April. Im on long-term maintenance now. I get an (intravenous drip) and chemo every 28 days. I get fatigued all the time, but with the fatigue, it is easy to sit around and do nothing. Youve got to pick yourself up.The two friends were picking themselves up quite a lot on their third day strapped into snowboards. But they found an easy cure for face plants and hard falls with a soak at Strawberry Park Hot Springs. Rodriguez and Anthony also visited Saddleback Ranch, tubed down Howelsen Hill and spent an afternoon shopping downtown.The trip was free for all the Sunshine Kids, and several area businesses stepped up to help make the childrens stay memorable. The Sheraton Steamboat Resort offered lodging. The Steamboat Ski Area provided lift tickets, lessons and rentals. Black Tie Ski Rentals gave the children appropriate ski and snowboard gear.Johnny B. Goods Diner closed its doors to the public one evening for the Sunshine Kids. Steamboat Smokehouse also catered a meal, while Saddleback Ranch took the children on snowmobiles, tubes and a sleigh ride.Prudential Steamboat Realty helped plan last weeks activities.Its really special having these kids visiting us in Steamboat, said Laura Cusenbary, Steamboat Prudentials director of marketing. We are honored to support the Sunshine Kids and look forward to them coming each year in the future.

The week ended with a Winter Games race on Headwall and a disco-themed party later that night.Anthony and Rodriguez said they are determined to master snowboarding and they are both looking into buying a board, but both kids said the most memorable experience of the week was meeting new friends.This is by far the most fun Ive had in a long time, said Rodriguez, who was dubbed Godzilla for his aversion to riding Steamboats gondola because of a fear of heights. This is my first time experiencing something new like this and seeing the other kids who went through the same disability as me. They keep their head up all the time, he said. Thats what Im going to do keep my head up and have fun.

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