■ Go here to see a TV 18 interview with Jennifer Wisler, director of children’s services for Sunshine Kids.
■ Go here to learn more about the organization.
Steamboat Springs At times, Kristine Duthie looked determined, nothing but a concentrated expression on her face. At other times, she just laughed.
Encouraged with positive feedback from Steamboat Ski and Snowboard School instructor Jessica Koenig on Wednesday, Duthie, 17, worked to perfect her turns in the Desperado magic carpet area at Steamboat Ski Area.
It was only her third day on skis. Learning how to ski was an opportunity Duthie — diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a form of bone cancer, in November — didn’t think she’d ever have, especially in the middle of her chemotherapy treatments.
Duthie, from Hewitt, N.J., is one of about 25 youths who made the trip to Steamboat Springs last week to participate in the Sunshine Kids Winter Games.
Sunshine Kids is a national nonprofit group that provides activities for children with cancer.
Through assistance and contributions from local businesses and organizations, the Sunshine Kids participated in a number of activities in Steamboat from the moment they arrived Feb. 28 through their departure, which was scheduled for Saturday.
Since November, Duthie has spent every other week in the hospital. The Ewing’s sarcoma was discovered during treatment for a broken pelvis she suffered in a car wreck in September. Doctors found a tumor in her right leg.
“I didn’t know if I should cry,” she said. “I didn’t know if I should scream. I didn’t know. I take it day by day, and I work through it.”
Sunshine Kids began in 1982 after Rhoda Tomasco, a volunteer in the pediatric cancer unit of a Houston hospital, met a boy who wanted to see snow, said Jennifer Wisler, director of children’s services for Sunshine Kids.
Wisler said Tomasco wanted that boy to get his wish and that he eventually did. Sunshine Kids works with more than 75 hospitals in the United States and Canada to provide opportunities for children diagnosed with cancer, Wisler said.
“It lets the kids accomplish and conquer: accomplish a new task and conquer a new goal,” she said. “I think that’s important for kids with cancer.”
For the Winter Games and other Sunshine Kids activities, the organization works with hospitals to identify children whom doctors and nurses think are physically able to participate, can fit a trip into their treatment schedules and will benefit the most, Wisler said. She said it’s the event’s sixth year in Steamboat.
The children in Steamboat last week were being treated at hospitals in Washington, D.C.; Newark, N.J.; Chicago; Miami; Houston; and Corpus Christi, Texas.
Wisler said the event could be positive for children who may feel isolated or depressed.
Bill Copeck, Duthie’s nurse at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Patterson, N.J., has worked with Sunshine Kids for the past decade. He called the Winter Olympics a “once in a lifetime deal for a lot of the kids.”
“I think the biggest thing is it allows them, her especially, to meet other kids going through the same thing, to show them they’re not alone,” Copeck said. “I think the other thing is it’s such a great opportunity for the medical professionals to see the kids outside of the hospital, to see them having fun and not having to worry about their treatment.”
Wisler said the Winter Games wouldn’t be possible without donations and discounted products and services from local businesses and organizations.
She said they include Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., Sheraton Steamboat Resort, Howelsen Hill Ski Area, Old Town Hot Springs, Black Tie Ski Rentals, Saddleback Ranch, Maribou Ranch, Johnny B Good’s Diner, Ski Haus, SmartWool, Under Armour, St. Cloud Mountain Club, Alpine Bank, KPA Productions and others.
“Bringing the Sunshine Kids to Steamboat is a community effort,” Ski Corp. spokeswoman Loryn Kasten said. “Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. is proud to be a part of that effort. It takes a lot of organizations to make that possible.”
Laura Cusenbary, of Prudential Steamboat Realty, helps organize the Sunshine Kids’ two trips to Steamboat each year. The Tour de Steamboat, which will be held July 17 and is preceded by a benefit dinner the night before, also benefits Sunshine Kids.
She said Prudential works with Sunshine Kids nationally, so locally, it was a natural fit to fundraise and assist with organizing activities. Cusenbary also said it was a community effort.
“Even in a challenging economy, everyone in this community pulls together to donate for these kids,” she said. “Our entire community rallies around to provide these kids a great experience.”
Cusenbary added that it’s tough to see children having to deal with cancer, but to see them light up, to see their enthusiasm, is the reason she’s proud to be involved with Sunshine Kids.
Duthie is scheduled to have surgery this month to remove the tumor. Copeck said Ewing’s sarcoma is treatable. He said Duthie’s surgery, which could require removing her leg, and the rest of her treatment will determine her prognosis.
But Duthie, a country girl who likes to ride horses and dance, wasn’t worrying about that last week. She was enjoying her trip. She said her favorite activity was sit-skiing Tuesday.
“Her smile was from here to here,” Duthie’s friend Vicky Garcia said, pointing from one side of her mouth to the other. Garcia, 21, also participated in the Sunshine Kids activities.
On Wednesday, Koenig, Duthie’s ski instructor, said they were working on turns in preparation for Friday’s final Winter Games event in Bashor Bowl. Koenig said the goal was to get the youths prepared to ski through the gates on the course.
Duthie said her trip to Steamboat, her first time on skis, her interactions with the other youths and the activities they participated in allowed her to get away from everything else in her life for a week. But it also meant more than that, she said.
“It means that I can still do stuff, maybe not as much as everyone else can, but I can still do stuff,” Duthie said.