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Swing For Life: Kathy Howa Beats Down Cancer

May 01, 2015 11:35AM ● Published by Lewi Lewis

Swing For Life Participants (2013) celebrating $1 million raised.

Superhuman strength, endurance, stamina, physical durability … these are just a few traits that Carol Danvers, alter ego of Ms. Marvel/Captain Marvel possessed, and so to, it seems, Kathy Howa possesses. 

Howa, who has been the head Softball coach and Educator at Rowland Hall since 1993, has collected a mass of achievements and successes underneath her proverbial superhero cape through out her life. 
Kathy Howa (middle right) poses with her softball team in front of a room the John Huntsman Cancer Institute named after the foundation.

 In 2000 and 2002 she was named the Utah Softball Coach of the year by the Utah High School Activities Association. Also in 2002, she was named State and Sectional Coach of the Year by the National Federation of State High School Association. Ten years later she was inducted into the Utah Hall of Fame not only as coach, but as a player as well. Oh, did I also mention that in 2002 she was diagnosed with breast cancer?

“I’m not a quitter. My goal when I was diagnosed was to teach the team that cancer isn’t something you are going to die from. I knew I could beat this, you just have to pick up your cross and go,” Howa said. 

Subsequent to her diagnosis, Howa went through about nine months of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, but she certainly didn’t have to do it alone. 

Kathy Howa posing with the Utah Jazz mascot, Bear, who performs at the Swing For Life Events

 Howa’s students and players weren’t going to take this lying down, so what does a group of athletes tend to do in the face of adversity? They rally.

Realizing the long-armed stretch that cancer has, she and her students decided they wanted to give something back to breast cancer, so they did what they knew best: they started a Hit-A-Thon.

“Kids actually went out and got pledges per hit,” Howa said, explaining just how long the event took. “Everyone got a 100 pitches, or a 100 hits.” The kid raised $12,000 that night. 

With such a successful drive, the following year they did it again. And then again. And again.

They realized that they weren’t raising so much money because people wanted to swing a bat at a ball thrown at them 100 times. They were raising money because the people in the community saw the good these kids were exemplifying and recognized the need for such events. 

“We went from $12,000 to $23,000 to $58,000 and then it went to $78,000,” Howa said. She knew things would keep growing, so the athletic director and her began discussing options; they wanted to make sure the money went to the right place. 

“The Huntsman Cancer Foundation was a place that whatever you give them, 100 percent of it goes to research.”

Whenever Howa spoke about the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, her voice changed into a tone of nearly endless gratitude, and why wouldn’t it? “The Huntsman Cancer Foundation saved me life,” she said. 

Howa helped start and continues to help run the Swing For Life Foundation, a nonprofit organization created to raise funds for breast cancer research. 

A couple of years ago, the foundation hit $1 million, an incredible feat. 

“The kids worked really hard to reach that, but I think there are some more goals that we can reach,” she said. 

Listening to Howa is like listening to endless energy. She goes and goes, her voice lilting with excitement for life.

 So quick to turn the spotlight off her and onto others, I had to reach out to some of those others, an attempt to better gain an accurate portrait of Howa. 

“She’s a Bulldog,” Lee Thomsen, Upper School Principal said, who has known Howa for 11 years. “She is the teacher/coach who is on the field or in the building long after dark … she has always been a ‘kids-first’ teacher and coach,” he said. 

When asked about pre-cancer diagnoses and post-cancer diagnosis, Thomsen told me he didn’t know Howa before her diagnosis, but he is sure of one thing. “Cancer hasn’t defined Kathy, but the battle to defeat cancer and to educate people has.”

Alan Sparrow echoes this: “She is a wonderful role model for her students. She is an outstanding coach.”

Howa brings her lust for life, both out on the field, in her classroom, and to her personal life with a contagious vigor. 

Cancer is no match for a cause that Kathy Howa has braced herself behind. Well, she has already proved that. 

I asked Howa if she was more like Superwoman or Captian Marvel.

“Man, I just want to me,” she said.    

For more information about Swing For Life and their events, visit www.swingforlife.org.
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