Friday, June 19, 2009

Out of Grief, an Amazing Tribute Rises

By Jim Kanak
Staff Columnist
Four years ago, two area teenagers responded to a tragedy by organizing an event that has become an annual tribute to a deceased friend and a significant fundraiser in the cause to help those impacted by cancer.
Jordan Sanford of Shapleigh and Jackson Tupper of Kennebunk, competitive snowboarders, lost their friend and colleague, Tucker Olmsted, to lymphoma at age 14. The young men decided to do something that would serve to commemorate their friend. The result was Tucker’s Boardercross for Cancer, a snowboard competition held at Sunday River that raises money for the Maine Children’s Cancer Program.
“Tucker died from lymphoma,” Sanford said. “ We had competed against him in snowboarding. Jackson and I got together and came up with the idea of boardercross. Tucker had competed in it. He was a great friend we wanted to remember.”
The race is held on President’s Day weekend in February each year and has raised more than $50,000 for the Maine Children’s Cancer Program. Sanford and Tupper and their families put the event together. “It’s a huge commitment,” Tupper said. “Each year we start to prepare in September or October and continue until a month or two after the event. We have to get raffle items, donations, T-shirt designs, and things like that. Afterwards, we do the thank you’s.”
“Jackson and I do most of the work,” said Sanford. “But we have a lot of help from our parents. It takes about an hour a day.”
Sanford and Tupper compete nationally in snowboarding. The United States of America Snowboard Association sanctions the Sunday River event. “We get about 80 competitors,” Sanford said. “For this one, friends also come in, so we get over 100 people. It’s definitely a big turnout.”
Debra Matson, Program Manager of the Children’s Cancer Program, said the event initially came as a surprise. “The boys worked through Tucker’s parents,” Matson said. “The next thing we knew, we got a check. It’s amazing, a big event for them to have pulled off doing everything by themselves.”
For the program, Tucker’s Boardercross for Cancer has become an important source of funds. “We rely heavily of fundraising dollars,” said Matson. “We’re a pediatric oncology program. We couldn’t exist without fundraising. The money we get from the boys’ event will be used to help us develop new programs.”
Sanford and Tupper have been snowboarding since early childhood. In fact, they met on the slopes. “We’ve been friends since third grade,” Tupper said. “I met Jordan on the slopes of Sunday River and we’ve been really good buddies ever since. We have traveled everywhere together, competing in snowboarding.”
Jackson graduated from Kennebunk High School this year and plans to attend the University of Vermont in the fall. Sanford will enter his junior year at Berwick Academy is the fall. They each say they’ve learned much from their experience with Tucker’s Boardercross.
“It shows that hard work pays off in the end,” Sanford said. “We’ve touched so many people in different ways. A friend’s death didn’t go forgotten. It’s a great event. It’s tough to put it into words. I want to continue with this as we go forward.”
Tupper agreed. “We really want to run the fundraiser again,” he said. ‘It’s really what we want to carry on. It will be harder with me going off to college and Jordan traveling a lot more for snowboarding and everything.”
Matson said the event was a positive commentary on the two young men’s characters. “They just want to do this,” she said. “It’s their friend and it’s their cause. They’re not doing it for the recognition. We have invited them to come up and meet with our board so we can thank them.”
Photo caption: From left, Jackson Tupper, Jordan Sanford and Tucker Olmsted as youngsters. (Courtesy photo)