Life changed quickly for Breckenridge resident Todd Franzen in November of 2009. Diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, he began treatment, which included multiple rounds of chemotherapy and, eventually, a stem cell transplant.
During that time, Franzen was able to use snowboarding as an escape from the difficulties of his cancer treatment. Two years later, his good friend and snowboarding buddy David Tuck received a sobering diagnosis of his own - pancreatic cancer.
It wasn't long before the spark of an idea took hold. Was there a way to use the passion and energy of snowboarding to help other cancer patients like themselves? They decided there was and with the help of friend Mike Daniel, Strap in for Life was born.
Tuck had worked before with a Florida-based organization called Grind for Life, which pairs cancer patients with skateboarding. Now he wanted to do the same, but with snow. Initially, the three considered a partnership with Grind for Life, but due to various legal and geographical reasons, it didn't work out.
"It became pretty evident that we needed to do our own thing," Franzen said.
After more than a year of talking about it, they finally took the first step with Strap in for Life, setting up a website and Facebook page in November of 2012 and starting the process for becoming a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.
"Our mission is to help cancer patients enjoy the spirit of snowboarding and beyond," Franzen said.
He, Tuck and Daniel have a lot of ideas about how to do this. One thing they want to do is to bring cancer patients and their families out to see snowboarding and snowsports events, like the
X Games and Dew Tour, and eventually events that Strap in for Life would put on. They're also very interested in working to get the cancer patients out on the slopes themselves, depending, of course, on the physical strength and feasibility of each individual.
"The goal is to get them into seeing what the spirit of snowboarding is about," Franzen said. "If we can get them on the hill, even better."
"Our goal is to provide an outlet," Daniel added in an email. "We want to create an opportunity for these patients to escape their reality and experience what we all know and love, snowboarding and the mountains."
Although he is currently undergoing a challenging treatment regimen, Tuck still finds time to go ride the slopes now and again. Franzen, now two-and-a-half years in remission, still remembers how important those runs were when he was undergoing chemo.
"It wasn't a lot, but it was like the one spot where I was able to not think about my treatment. It was my own spot," Franzen said. "It was a break from the daily work, the daily grind of going through treatment."
Though he has not personally experienced cancer, Daniel said that he believes snowboarding is a way to uplift and inspire those who are going through it.
"The mountains and snowboarding have always been a place for myself, as well as Todd and Dave, to lose ourselves," Daniel said. "There are so many great aspects of snowboarding, from the vast mountains and landscapes, to the people you meet. Everyone is connected by a similar passion. We hope to share that passion with people struggling and fighting cancer and allow them to be inspired as we all are through snowboarding and its culture."
As they wait for their 501(c)3 application and paperwork to go through, Tuck, Franzen and Daniel are working to spread the word about what they want to do and get people involved.
Community was what got the three of them together in the first place. Franzen and his brother had always been involved in the skateboarding community in Breckenridge, even building ramps in front of their house and creating a place for enthusiasts to gather. When Tuck moved to Breckenridge from Michigan, he met Franzen through skateboarding. Daniel met the two of them through friends when he moved to Breckenridge in 1977. Though both Tuck and Daniel eventually moved away, all three have kept in close contact.
Franzen also felt the support of the Breckenridge community when he was diagnosed in 2009. A benefit for him yielded more than 400 people.
"The community came together for me. It was awesome," Franzen said. He hopes to keep the community involved in Strap in for Life's efforts. "I want to keep the community up to date about it. We want people to be involved with it from the beginning."
The three unveiled Strap in for Life during the most recent Dew Tour, where they said they did well. 365 Boarding, an apparel company based in Denver, is sponsoring a party Friday at Liquid Lounge, with Strap in for Life as the beneficiary. The event will feature snowboarding movies, drinks, raffles and giveaways, asking for a donation at the door.
"We have two goals - to raise as much money as possible for Strap in for Life, as well as promoting 365 Boarding," said 365 Boarding founder and owner Heather Hakes. "We want to have a positive impact on the community."
There's still a lot changing in Franzen's life these days, but this time it's all positive.
"Change is good," he said. "Change is real good now."