A month before leaving for the Power Smart Manitoba Summer Games in Swan River, the Winnipeg Blue girls’ soccer team received some upsetting news.
Monique Ditter, whose daughter Jazi was on the team and whose husband Jaret was one of the coaches, had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Even though the players came from rival clubs — Winnipeg South End United, Bonivital Flames and elsewhere — they had become as close as family during the 14 months since the team was selected.
The players decided they wanted to show their support for the Ditters in any way they could.
They wore pink shoelaces and armbands and dyed their hair pink. They nominated Jazi to be the team’s flag bearer in the opening ceremony. And they signed up for the CIBC Run for the Cure.
"I have a beautiful family here," said Ditter, 49, a River Park South resident. "I didn’t even know most of these people a year ago, but the Manitoba Games brought us together."
What started with a few girls earning some cash at a lemonade stand quickly turned into an all-out fundraising blitz. The team is now at $1,200, with a goal of raising $1,500 before the Sept. 30 run.
While their priorities may have been re-evaluated, the squad still went into Swan River with every intention of winning a medal.
Despite being the youngest and smallest team in the field — the Blue team consisted of 10- to 12-year-olds while most other teams brought a lineup of 13-year-olds — they didn’t allow a single goal until late in the final.
Playing against the Winnipeg Gold team, the Blues led 1-0 until the Golds tied it up with seven minutes remaining. The Golds scored twice in overtime to win the game 3-1.
"It was very challenging for us, being so much smaller," said 10-year-old forward Abigail Long, a Waverley Heights resident.
Cassie Nazeravich, a 12-year-old midfielder from Windsor Park, said the team’s motivation was clear.
"With all our hearts we wanted to win for (Ditter)," she said. "We put all our hearts into it."
Coach Les Long said the team showed remarkable improvement after training together on a weekly basis since May 2011.
"They’re really dedicated to the sport," he said. "The girls applied themselves to focusing on the technique of the game. They were a little slower and smaller than the other teams, but they surprised a lot of people."
Ditter, a former member of the Canadian women’s handball team who won a silver medal at the 1987 Pan Am Games, is planning to run alongside the team in the Run for the Cure if her health allows it.
"My sport psychology training through the years has helped me," she said. "I’m making it into a competition. I’m going to beat this."