Rachel Mark is the Director of Campaigns for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. She joined The Women’s Only Podcast with host Cleo Faucette to discuss the role sports played in Rachel’s life growing up and how she uses it to make a difference.
Listen to the full interview on The Omega Sports Women’s Only Podcast.
Growing up an athlete
Rachel grew up in an athletic family. Her two older brothers were a huge influence in her early years. She watched them play Little League and knew she wanted to partake.
At around age 4, she picked up tee-ball in a co-ed league. As she got older, she was told she would need to switch to softball. Rachel had no interest in softball as it was a different sport that utilized a different skill set.
Her interest turned to gymnastics. She watched it on TV and found it entertaining and beautiful. This was during the ’96 Olympics when the US Women’s Gymnastics team won their first gold.
Rachel was hooked.
She had the Olympic Barbie and a book on the Olympians. She would imitate the women and dream of competing at their level.
At her peak, Rachel was practicing upwards of 35 hours a week. She LOVED it. She loved being at the gym. It didn’t even feel like exercise because she enjoyed it so much.
Rachel says there got to be a point when the fear started to overcome her love of the sport. As the skills became more difficult, the risks increased.
Rachel notes that as you get older your body changes. You realize you can get hurt. And it affects what you can do. It’s no longer the same ignorant and blissful fun she had when she was younger.
Rachel is in awe of Simone Biles. Her mental toughness and emotional strength she showed to pull herself out of a position to injure herself couldn’t have been easy, says Rachel. To reach that level and opt-out is difficult.
Simone was living her dream. Despite all her training and sacrifices to reach this stage, she understood her limitations and chose to take care of herself. It took maturity and toughness to step back and let others compete.
In middle school, Rachel also picked up cheerleading. She was drawn to it because she loved being involved in school extracurriculars.
Many of the same skills she used in gymnastics, she used in cheerleading. She eventually allowed cheerleading to take priority when she had to choose between the two. This ultimately hurt her career in gymnastics, stopping her from competing at higher levels.
She dropped gymnastics after high school but continued to cheer at NC State. She was able to compete on ESPN against other D1 universities. And it’s something she’ll never forget.
What makes cheerleading competitive?
A team develops a routine that incorporates dancing, tumbling, stunting, and often an actual cheer. Teams then compete in front of judges. The focus is less on spirit and entertainment and more on being better than other squads at your level.
And it’s the most exhausting 3 minutes she’s ever faced.
Competing is no longer the sole reason Rachel works out. But it is something she struggled to figure out as an adult.
She didn’t know how to navigate the gym. In all her years of working out, she always had a specific sport that dominated her exercise. She was inactive after college.
She eventually picked up running because she was a terrible runner. Running even one mile was a task She wanted to improve. So she signed up for a 5k. Then a 10k. Eventually, she worked her way up to a half marathon.
She also picked up yoga, which she likens her experience as a gymnast. Yoga came naturally to her. Like gymnastics, it’s all about strength, balance, and flexibility.
Where yoga differs is it is not at all competitive. It took her a long time to get out of that competitive mindset and focus on the mental benefits. Unlike other athletic sports, you don’t have to be the best to benefit physically, mentally, and emotionally.
The road to Vs. Cancer
The sports connection
In college, she had no idea what career she wanted to pursue. She thought she’d go into on-air broadcasting and journalism, but after a semester, she realized otherwise.
She was feeling the pressure as someone who was paying for college herself. She was already working a lot and didn’t want to go through additional semesters to graduate. She needed to complete her schooling in 4 years.
That’s when she discovered the Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management major at NC State and pursued this major. In her senior year, she took a Sports Management class. It clicked with her.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t take any more time in school. Either way, Sports Management was only offered as a minor. So she continued her path and secured an internship with a minor league baseball team, the Carolina Mudcats.
Her internship was predominately marketing with a splash of community relations. Her boss brought her to a community outreach event where a player read to children in a library while Muddy (the mascot) made the kids laugh. She saw firsthand the platform and impact an athlete at any level can have on the public.
Her focus shifted solely to community relations. She went back to grad school at ECU where she got her master’s in Sports Administration. While there, she completed an internship with the KC Chiefs.
There she was given a lot of autonomy. It changed her life. She watched NFL players go to children’s hospitals and brighten up their days. She saw them help underserved communities with things like free dental checkups.
Her first sports job was in northeast PA with a AAA affiliate of the NY Yankees.
Rachel Mark Vs. Cancer
Vs. Cancer is the signature fundraising campaign of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. It was started in 2013 by a former collegiate baseball player, Chase Jones. Chase was a student at UNC-Chapel Hill in his freshman year when he was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer.
He received radiation and chemotherapy. He even went to Houston to receive treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
During this time, he had his entire baseball team cheering him on. When he lost his hair, they all shaved their heads in solidarity. When he was in the hospital, they would come to visit. The team would also say hello to other children on the pediatric floor.
Pediatric brain cancer may be diagnosed in young adults because their brains may still be developing. Chase was on the pediatric floor because of this.
Chase was grateful to have a team standing behind him and rooting for his survival. It’s not something every child and family has. Cancer can feel isolating. Chase saw firsthand the impact of his teammates on children’s lives. Starting Vs. Cancer was an obvious step for him.
What does it mean to work on this initiative?
View this post on Instagram
Chase called Rachel when she was working with the Yankees. He wanted to do a fundraiser. He wanted to help fund research and grants at local children’s hospitals.
This was by far the most successful fundraiser Rachel had done that entire year.
The more families she meets, the closer all this gets to Rachel’s heart. Watching people who have experienced pediatric cancer and their strength has meant so much.
Like all of us, she has hard days, frustrating days. But when she talks to parents and children, it reenergizes her. She remembers why she is doing this and digs deeper to help.
Childhood Cancer Awareness month
With a goal to increase awareness and raise funds for those affected by childhood cancer, the American Childhood Cancer Organization encourages everyone to Go Gold® during September in honor and in memory of kids with cancer!
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month. This year, Vs. Cancer is working with fall athletic teams to help raise money.
Vs. Cancer has partnered with 17 professional pitchers who are working to “strike out” pediatric brain cancer. They are asking for pledges and donations to fund additional research and to support families.
View this post on Instagram
Every child deserves a cure
Pediatric brain cancer is the deadliest form of childhood cancer. It is now the most common form of pediatric cancer. And unfortunately, the numbers are increasing.
There is still so much more to do. We cannot allow this disease to continue. We must advocate for children and their families. Much more money is spent on adult cancer research.
On September 25 and 26th, Omega Sports has partnered with Vs. Cancer. 5% of online proceeds will be benefiting the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.
It takes a village to do what Rachel does. And they want everyone joining in. You can visit vs-cancer.org to learn more.
If you are a family or know a family who could benefit from resources, you can also visit curethekids.org.
if you are a family or know a family who can benefit from resources we encourage you to visit curethekids.org. There are resources for every stage of the journey.
Rachel and her organization are helping battle the deadliest childhood cancer. It is not ok to have little ones lost because of a brain tumor diagnosis. Until they can tell every family we have a cure, they will be here advocating.
- Approximately 6% of all brain tumors occur in the pediatric population
- Approximately 1.8% of all brain tumors occur in the adolescent (15-19) population of pediatric brain tumor patients
- An estimated 4,630 new cases of pediatric brain tumors will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2021
- Brain tumors are the most common solid cancer in persons age 0-19 years in the U.S.
- The five-year relative survival rate for all primary pediatric brain tumors is 76.7%
- Pediatric brain tumors are the leading cause of cancer-related death among children and adolescents ages 0-19 years
Can’t get enough of the Women’s Only Podcast? Listen to past episodes where we highlight other great women.