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Everyone Has A Story, And This Is Mine. Volume 9: Mary Quayle-Korus

Everyone Has A Story, And This Is Mine. Volume 9: Mary Quayle-Korus

With this weekend being the 10th Annual Give Blood Play Hockey Event I reached out to the young woman that started it all a decade ago.  If you play hockey in CA. you have heard of and/or played in this event. For those of you not fortunate enough to make it to GBPH, this story will give you a little look into what has become everyone’s favorite tournament of the year in Socal.  The amount of money raised and blood donated is beyond amazing considering this all started as one girl’s dream to give back.  I can’t say enough positive things about this event or the people behind it.  So I will let the newly married Mary Korus,(formally Quayle) tell you in her own words how it all began and how far it has come in the last 10 years. Enjoy.

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Without a single doubt, hockey is a part of the fabric of my DNA.  Looking back on my childhood, hockey was what made me different, made me strong, taught me to fight.  Fighting and hockey is a common analogy in our sport, but this is not the type of fighting I am talking about.  As a young girl, I was probably about 6 years old, I would sit in the stands and watch my brother, Peter, play. I knew the bleachers were not where I belonged, the rink was calling me. I remember asking my dad if I could play, without hesitation, my first pair of skates were purchased. Not saying my mom ever thought I would be more of a “ballet slipper” girl, but not sure hockey was the direction she was hoping for me. None the less, my first victory was claimed, I had found my sport.

Playing a “boys” sport certainly came with the need to be resilient and bring strength to my game beyond the physical. I remember entering the teenage years, the boys weren’t always so thrilled to have a girl on their team. They liked to give me a hard time, play pranks on me, and put lovely “presents” in my bag. I remember thinking, don’t let them see you cry. Be strong. Fight back with a smile on my face. Seemed like an uphill battle, until one day, at a NARCH qualifying tournament, I got a cheap shot from behind, my head straight into the boards, would you believe it… every single guy on my team was over the bench to “take care” of the opposition. I remember watching my goalie skate full speed from the other end of the rink to have my back.  Hockey is a sport of passion, dedication and your teammates are your family, trained to have their teammates back.

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Hockey is one of the great loves of the Quayle family. I always have the most fun playing with my brothers, my cousins, my dad, and my uncles. Some of our best hockey memories happened in north eastern Pennsylvania on the lake my mom grew up on. We would call our grandparents, Grand-mommy and Pa, to ask them how thick the ice was getting on the lake before we would make our annual trip back around the holidays, with fingers and toes crossed that pond hockey was in our future. The family would work together to smooth out a patch of ice, primed for hours on end of some friendly family competitions. While hockey is a core of the Quayle family, it is trumped by our love and dedication to our wonderfully large and enthusiastic family.

My mom, Peggy Quayle, is one of ten Clauss children born from Peter and Jane Clauss. My grandfather quite literally built a house full of love for his family and continued to expand as 30 grandchildren were born, me being 16th of 30. My cousins are my best friends. There is nothing we love more than spending time together, all 80+ of us now. My grandfather was famous for being an all-around family man and the definition of a role model. To give you a sneak peek into our lives with him growing up, you would frequently see him letting us have ice cream before dinner, my grandmother famous for turning her eyes the other way as we all followed Pa one by one down to the ice cream parlor he built for us in their backyard. Their patience to teach us new things, guidance to make the right decision, to put others above ourselves and have compassion for those in need is core to our family because of their example.

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One day a nasty word creeped into the picture, Cancer. My Pa fought for years. Blood transfusions aided him in his fight and gave him more time with us. He ultimately lost his battle in 2007. It was heart wrenching, at 72 years old, we had so much more we wanted to do with him. We knew he would have loved his now great-grandchildren. I would have given anything to have him at my wedding this past summer. The void will never be filled, but I had to do something. Our family wanted to continue the fight against this horrible disease.

I was a junior at Mater Dei High School, pondering with my dad how we could continue his legacy. How could we stop this horrible disease from taking people from us? I thought about my childhood, what a blessing it had been to be a part of such a great family, play a sport that I loved and be healthy. Ideas started popping into my head, we read stories, talked to others, and heard stories of 2 year-olds, 6 year-olds, 13 year-olds, 18 year-olds being stripped of their childhood to battle cancer. It wasn’t right. Kids deserve a childhood. Kids should be playing, growing learning. They should be playing hockey! Awareness and funding for pediatric cancers is far lower than it should be. Research for treatments and cures for childhood cancer’s need attention.

Talking to my mom about this idea her passion really kicked in. Blood transfusions gave my grandfather time.  Being a blood donor is free and can change the life of an individual, a family.  People deciding to take the time out of their busy schedule to give, can be everything in the eyes of another. Blood donations gave us hope. We were determined to give hope to others.

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We leaned on our hockey community to get started. We had a small group of dreamers that saw what it could be. As we socialized the idea with our close knit friends, slowly you realize, everyone has a story. We all have someone to fight for. Our longtime family friend, Julie Ruff, was all in. If you have played in our tournament, not doubt you have heard this name. She is lovingly referred to as the machine, and a machine she is! And just like that, an idea became reality and Give Blood Play Hockey was born.

The fight against cancer + Blood Drive + Passion of the hockey community = Give Blood Play Hockey

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We had no idea what it would become. For me, if we are being honest here, I hoped we could make a small difference, have some fun, and have an awesome story to use on my college application which I would be writing that fall. Our goal was to replenish the pints of blood that my grandfather needed throughout his treatment, 46 pints. Thinking much beyond a one year event was not a huge priority. Our first year in 2007, we had 47 teams, collected 107 pints of blood and raised $26,100. We were proud, we had a blast, my brothers and I played a LOT of hockey, if memory serves me correctly, I played on 4 teams that weekend. PHEW. But, man, it was fun. So we thought, let’s go for another year.

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Over the next couple of years, we established Give Blood Play Hockey as a family friendly event welcoming teams of all ages and skill levels. Our blood drive was picking up speed, 137 pints, 157 pints, 197 pints. Each year, up and up. We encouraged first time donors, friends started bringing friends, our amazing volunteer group grew and support followed. Give Blood Play Hockey was a real event that teams, players, fans grew to love and expect. Although a charity, competition started to heat up to win the blood cup.  The hockey vendor community support was truly amazing. During the first couple of years, we were able to donate a patient care room on the new oncology floor at CHOC and a medication station to support the patients in their fight. We heard stories, but one day, the story hit too close to home.

Casey Strale entered our lives. For those of you who don’t know the story of this brave young man, you must hear it.

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As told by his mother, Traci Strale: “On September 22nd 2009, an ultrasound indicated a mass on Casey’s left kidney. By evening Casey was admitted to CHOC’s Children’s Hospital (CHOC) for tests. This was the day that “normal” took on a very different meaning.  While he rested in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit his condition quickly became critical. His only hope of survival (given by his doctors) was to place Casey on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine (ECMO), a heart and lung bypass machine that breathes for the patient. We were told that Casey would not likely survive the procedure. Casey survived!

He also survived the following open heart surgery (while still attached to ECMO) that removed the tumor pieces inside his chest. Only then did the doctors discover the enemy. Adrenal Cortical Carcinoma (ACC),* an extremely rare cancer that has little history of striking children of Casey’s age.  CHOC had never before treated anyone with this type of cancer. Casey was given a 10-15% chance of survival.  We later learned that no other pediatric cancer patient at CHOC had been removed from the machine and survived; this brought us to our knees. Casey’s case was groundbreaking.  He survived!  The grapefruit-sized tumor was then removed from Casey’s abdomen. A procedure that doctors warned us again, could be fatal; I simply asked them “have you met my son”? He survived!

During the following months Casey endured physical, respiratory and occupational therapy to help him regain his ability to breathe on his own, swallow, talk and walk. The chemotherapy treatments continued during the ensuing months. His body withered, but his spirits remained strong.  All he asked was “will I be able to play hockey again” I replied “Yes honey, just not today”. 

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Ultimately chemotherapy was over and Casey got back on the rink.  All he asked was to be a normal kid, the kid without cancer.  From 2010 to 2012 Casey and his buddies played in Give Blood Play Hockey and enjoyed every minute!  In fact, Casey walked away with every skills competition prize his first year of participation.

Months became years, years of clinical trials and multiple surgeries.  Most of the time Casey felt very good and continued to skate for both roller and ice clubs at The Rinks Irvine Inline and Anaheim Ice as a Jr. Duck.  He was voted Asst. Captain by his team and received player of the month in February 2013. Eventually, we ran out of options, the cancer was spreading faster than we could find options and ultimately Casey lost his battle on June 24th, 2013 with family and friends at his side.”

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Deep Breath. My heart is still broken.

When we met Casey, he was a young boy who was geared up to fight a disease which he was an extreme underdog. He knew he had to win against this beast to get back on the rink to play a game he loved. He was our ambassador and continues today. Casey is a beacon for why we were doing what we were doing and the best part was, he was fighting right alongside us. Watching him skate out on the rink in 2010 was such an inspiration. Casey LOVED hockey. It was his reward for his fight and he was good!! I loved watching him play. When the Strale family joined our team and we met Casey, Give Blood Play Hockey grew substantially, everyone wanted to get on board to help Casey and kids like him fight.

The night we lost Casey, my brother Thomas, my cousin Jack and I were playing at the Rinks- Irvine. We knew that Casey was fighting for his life when we stepped on the rink. Those who know me as a player, you know that I am defensive defense-woman, something overcame me and I scored my first and only hat trick. When we stepped off the rink, we learned that Casey has flown to play hockey with the greats. I could feel him at the rink. I still can when I am there.  Alongside the Strale Family and the community of volunteers around us, players, coaches, fans, sponsors, donors…we knew the fight must continue.

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So here we are, our 10th annual event. Saying the word 10th truly blows my mind. We had no idea this would ever become this. To date, we have raised $602,468 and we are on our way to $1 million dollars that we have pledged to CHOC. We have collected 2029 pints of Blood, 745 pints in the last 2 years alone. 116 teams will flood the Rinks, playing in 20 Divisions. Give Blood Play Hockey is BIG! Our volunteers, board members, committee make all of this possible. We have wonderful support for our corporate sponsors Pacific Premier Bank and Pathway Capital.  When you are attending Give Blood Play Hockey, you don’t want to leave, we have awesome food, hockey vendors, silent auction and a raffle. We have a Locks of Love drive where people can donate their hair to make a difference for those who have none due to treatments. We have something for everyone! Each person that attends Give Blood Play Hockey makes a difference just by participating.

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As I mentioned at the beginning of this story, Hockey is more than a sport. Hockey teaches us lessons that go beyond the hours of practice, 1000’s of games, smelly gloves, heart breaking losses and sweet sweet victories. Hockey is about the fight. We fight for those who cannot be here today, those that battle, and for those that will need us in the future.  We fight for Casey, Niko, Scarlett, for Pa and My Uncle David. We fight for your story. We will continue the fight.  Hockey is a team sport. We have each others back.  We are a team. We are a family. We play together. We fight together. We give hope. We work to be the strength when others need it. We give back to CHOC to help find cures and treatments. We give blood. We play hockey.

-Mary Korus

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