Women’s gymnastics vaults to ‘Wipeout Cancer’

Former University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) women’s gymnast Caroline Lee is an inspiration to many. After her collegiate athletic career, Lee became a champion on the television show WipeOut in 2010. But tragedy soon struck Lee, who was diagnosed with stage lV colon cancer in 2012.

Inspired by her own journey, Lee started a nonprofit called Wipeout Cancer, which offers kids with cancer opportunities to engage with athletics programs via events focused on physical activity and positivity. In addition to Wipeout Cancer’s fundraising efforts (more than $50,000 in five years), Lee and her team have focused on connecting kids with cancer with inspiring athletes, making them feel like regular kids, even if for just one day. 

Former Stanford gymnast and current head coach, Tabitha Yim connected with Lee a few years back, igniting a meaningful and impactful partnership between Wipeout Cancer and the Stanford Gymnastics program. Yim has long had a passion for community service and cancer awareness, having volunteered at Camp Kesem, a residential camp for kids with cancer, as a student-athlete. Equipped with this fervor, Yim has always worked to inspire her athletes to use their talents for good. 

“We talk a lot on our team about how everyone in some way, shape or form has been impacted by cancer or knows someone who has been impacted by cancer. So I think the girls were pretty invested in raising visibility,” Yim said. “We have a small, very close-knit community, and I think [Lee’s] story was very inspiring to our athletes.”

Lee’s partnership with the Stanford gymnastics program has expanded beyond hosting Sports Day for Kids events, to include inviting kids with cancer to walk out with gymnasts before their meets, putting together gift boxes for local childrens’ hospitals and assisting patients through obstacle courses at local fundraising events for pediatric cancer awareness. These efforts have resonated with the team and have made a significant impact on the kids. 

“[The Stanford Women’s Gymnastics Team] has got a lot to give. I think about how special it was when I was an athlete in college, and back then all we did was academics and you worried about your sport,” Lee said. “This opens it up and teaches you a lot more about the world and what [the team] has to offer to other people.”

Stanford sophomore and women’s gymnastics team member Porsche Trinidad has witnessed the impact that the collaboration with Wipeout Cancer has had on the kids, and she deeply appreciates these connections. 

“This year, more specially, we wanted to do more hands-on work because, ever since Covid started, it was a little bit difficult being able to interact with kids,” Trinidad said. “Going through cancer is no joke. Every single person on our team has been impacted or knows someone who has been impacted by cancer. It’s a really awesome thing to pay it forward to the community and give these kids experiences to help them stay strong during really hard times.” 

Trinidad recognizes that having in-person events and celebrating kids through athletic opportunities can truly make an impact during difficult moments.

“They look at us and hopefully they see role models that they want to replicate in their lives,” Trinidad said. “A lot of times we’ll be at gymnastics meets and then they’ll come up to us and be like, ‘You were my coach for camp!’ or ‘you did X, Y, X with me!’ and it is just amazing and it warms my heart so much.”

Lee similarly acknowledges that having face-to-face interactions is beneficial to all parties, not just the kids. 

“[The benefits for the kids are] their level of energy, their level of enthusiasm, their interest, and the  exposure they get to things. The other benefit I didn’t realize: the parents talking to each other,” Lee said. “For some of them, because we’re in 2024, when the kids were diagnosed it was during Covid. So you’re isolated and the parents aren’t talking to each other. When we do events, the parents can meet each other and talk.”

Yim has been inspired by the efforts put forward by her team and is proud to have cultivated leadership and service opportunities offered within a Stanford athletic program. 

“[Student-athletes] are kind of lucky to have a platform and maybe a greater or more visible voice and presence than other people,” Yim said. “As a coach you take pride in that and you feel very lucky that you have quality people on your team.”

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