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Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Updated: October 6, 3:50 PM ET
Boarding for Breast Cancer turns 15

By Colin Bane
ESPN.com

Elena Hight, wearing her Volcom B4BC Iconic jacket.

This week, Boarding for Breast Cancer kicked off its 17-stop Check One, Two campus tour in California, marking both the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the 15th anniversary of the organization co-founded by pro snowboarders Tina Basich and Shannon Dunn and action sports industry insiders Kathy Gasperini and Lisa Hudson.

"It's crazy to think that it's been 15 years, and to think of how much it's grown," says Hudson. "Fifteen years ago, after our good friend Monica Steward was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 26, we decided we wanted to start an event to educate young women and the action sports industry about breast cancer, how it can affect young women, and how impotant it is to not only be able to detect it early on through self breast exams, but also to be your own advocate to demand that your doctors take note and take the necessary steps and not just say, 'Oh, you're too young for breast cancer.' Unfortunately Monica passed away before that first event in Tahoe, and that kind of gave us all an extra push to make it happen and to see how much more we could do with this to save as many people's lives as possible."

In the beginning, the organization put on annual snowboarding and music events around Lake Tahoe, donating the proceeds to established organizations like the Breast Cancer Fund and Susan G. Komen for the Cure. But the co-founders saw an even bigger opportunity to raise awareness about breast cancer and partnered with some of the biggest brands in action sports to create collaborative "cause-marketing" products and bring in top athletes to help spread the message.

B4BC has established an annual presence at the X Games, the Burton U.S. Open of Snowboarding, the U.S. Open of Surfing, and other action sports events, and outreach director Blair Young estimates she now has one-on-one communication with at least 100,000 young women annually at these events, distributing educational literature and cards teaching young women how to do breast self exams. That number is about to get exponentially bigger, thanks to a significantly expanded campus tour.

"For our second annual campus tour we've increased from five stops to 17 stops," Young says. "We're hitting most of the major universities in California and partnering with the women's health studies, recreation & sports departments, and student wellness centers at each campus. We're looking to expand the tour even more in 2012, possibly even taking it across the country." The tour began Tuesday at California State University at Sacramento and concludes November 3, with stops at UC-San Diego and San Diego State University.

And while most of the media attention on the work of B4BC and other breast cancer awareness organizations tends to center around Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, Young says it's important to emphasize that the work of prevention and early detection education is a year-round endeavor. "There's also a movement to stop calling it Breast Cancer Awareness Month and shift it to Breast Cancer Prevention Month, which is what we're now calling it," Young says.

I've experienced firsthand people coming to the B4BC booth and saying, 'Boarding for Breast Cancer saved my life. You taught me how to do a breast self exam last year,' and they're standing there baldheaded, they're going through chemotherapy, and they're telling us that early detection saved their lives and that they first learned how to do a breast self exam from visiting a B4BC booth."

Seventy percent of B4BC's annual operating budget now comes from its cause marketing partners, according to Hudson. Currently available products featured in the B4BC shop drop at CCS.com and at B4BC.org include Boarding for Breast Cancer t-shirts by Element, Billabong, Skullcandy, Burton, Neff, WeSC, Vans, Salomon, Nike 6.0, Von Zipper, Circa, DVS, Paul Frank, and Bonfire (Monica Steward was a snowboard clothing designer at Bonfire), among others. The 2011/2012 B4BC lookbook also includes high-end "pink products" like Reel Pink snowboard boot dials by Boa, Von Zipper goggles, and the Iconic Jacket by Volcom, which was designed in collaboration with pro snowboarder and B4BC spokeswoman Elena Hight.

"Boarding for Breast Cancer started with an event in Tahoe near where I grew up in South Lake, so I've been around it since I was a total grom," says Hight. "It's been an honor to get more involved by spending time in the B4BC booths at the events I'm competing in, and to be able to support through proceeds from the jacket. They're also out there talking about the importance of a healthy lifestyle, eating nutritious food, being outside, enjoying the the things you love, like snowboarding or whatever it is you're into. The healthier you are, the stronger you'll be when it comes to fighting breast cancer or any other disease. I think it's an important message to be spread: Breast cancer is a survivable disease. You can actively reduce your risk of getting it in the first place, and it can be detected early. Once detected, it can be fought."

Other athletes active in B4BC's 2011/2012 campaigns include surfers Coco Ho, Liz Clark, Malia Manuel and Sage Erickson, snowboarder Jamie Anderson, and skateboarder Allysha Bergado.