Oct. 13, 2011
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By Jennifer Hock and Jenna Marina
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Caryl Smith Gilbert will be the first to tell you that when you run for her, you become family. So when a former UCF athlete's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer last fall, it hit home for the track and field coach.
Former UCF runner Mason Gardberg's life was impacted by breast cancer when she learned her mother, Gale, was diagnosed in fall 2010. Smith Gilbert calls the Gardberg family her inspiration, and this Friday when the UCF cross country team hosts its only meet of the season - the "UKNIGHT in Pink" Black and Gold Challenge - she wants them to be the participants' inspiration, as well.
"To me, she's just a real strong positive role model for young women. It's important to me that young women know about getting exams and taking care of themselves," Smith Gilbert said. "We've got to try to find a cure. This meet, I just want them to run for the cure."
Gardberg, an engineering student, ran for UCF in 2009-10 before informing Smith Gilbert this summer that she was leaving the team. Between the stress of school and coping with her mother's health issues, Gardberg needed something to give. It was the first time the junior opened up about her mother's cancer.
"She was catching a lot of colds and sinus infections last year from being stressed out, but she never quit. She never brought it up and she never made an excuse, and her mother told her to never make it an excuse," Smith Gilbert said. "Her mother didn't even really want her to know. She said, `I'm going to beat this Coach Caryl and I'm going to be fine.'"
A portion of the meet's entry fees will be donated to the Central Florida affiliate of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure®. All 300 runners will wear pink shoelaces as a tribute to the cause.
The Black and Gold Challenge will mark the largest meet UCF has ever hosted. A total of 300 athletes, both male and female, will participate. The men will compete in an 8K race while the women run the only 6K race in the state.
Coach Paul Brown wanted to have a 6K so the runners would have exposure to that distance before the NCAA regional competition.
"It will be the best cross country experience that has been on UCF's campus thus far and I'm glad it's on my watch," Brown said. "We're looking at it as a tune-up for our next two meets. We want to go out with a bang this year."
The Knights have taken on a strong sense of pride coming into this week's meet. Defending their pride at home has been a predominate theme for the team every day leading up to the event.
"We've talked about pride every day since Sunday," Brown said. "We definitely want to defend our home turf. We have some good teams coming that we haven't beaten yet this year. We think we can get top three. That's the goal - to get top three."
Teams competing this Friday include: Bethune-Cookman, Embry-Riddle, Florida A&M, Florida Gulf Coast, Jacksonville, North Florida, Rollins, South Florida, Stetson, Warner and Palm Beach Atlantic.