Snowboarding is more than simply a hobby for Summit County local Todd Franzen. Out on the slopes since age 10, it has been a way to have fun, to make friends, to feel the freedom of moving effortlessly down the mountain. And, after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2009, it became an escape, the one time of day when the worry, the frustration and the pain of life with cancer dropped away, and all that existed was the mountain.
If snowboarding could do this for him, Franzen figured, it could help other people battling cancer as well. When a good friend, David Tuck, was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer, the idea grew. With the help of friend Mike Daniel, the premise of Strap in for Life was born.
The mission statement for Strap in for Life is: Helping those affected by cancer to experience snowboard culture on the mountain and beyond.
“We wanted to do something a little more tangible. Instead of giving money away to a research firm, we wanted to be able to give money to the patient and their families, to help get them on the hill,” said Franzen, “whether that’s through tickets, through getting them gear, accommodations for staying, potential season passes for ones that are in recovery, to all of the above.”
They started the application process for 501(c)3 nonprofit status in November 2012, and received confirmation just before the end of 2013, several months earlier than expected.
“So Christmas came early,” Franzen said with a smile.
Strap in for Life has already been able to help some people, including Chris Mountjoy, a former Colorado resident who now lives in Montana. Mountjoy, who was diagnosed with lung cancer, came down for the Dew Tour in Breckenridge, getting a VIP Pass and accommodation through Strap in for Life.
“(We want to) make them feel normal for an afternoon, a day, whatever they can do,” said Justin Stirt, another Strap in for Life member. “Dave (Tuck) would say all the time, when he could get out and snowboard, the days he felt he could get out there, … he could take his mind off of the problems. You can get out there and forget about all the stuff.”
“Being in the mountains is incredibly healing,” Franzen said. “Doing it through the spirit of snowboarding is what we’re about.”
In celebration of gaining their nonprofit status, and as a fundraiser to help more people like Mountjoy, Strap in for Life is organizing a launch party on Feb. 28 at Cecilia’s Martini Bar and Nightclub in Breckenridge. The event will start with a mixer, followed by an evening with DJ music and an appearance by hip hop artist Juvenile. A $5 and $10 raffle will be giving away items throughout the evening.
“It’s good to get the local people behind it and grow where it started and let people know here that this is happening,” said Stirt.
On July 20, 2013, Tuck lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. This loss has increased the motivation and drive behind Strap in for Life, in its mission to reach out to cancer patients.
“It means more to me than it ever has,” Stirt said.
Both Stirt and Franzen have fond memories of Tuck, and they smile as they attempt to describe him in mere words.
“He was a good friend. He was a pretty popular guy but he had a way to make you feel like you were special,” said Stirt. “He always had time and a smile, just a really hardworking guy. … I could go on forever about him. It’s hard to whittle him down into a phrase, but he was a really great guy with a big heart.”
Stirt recalled that Tuck’s son, Mikey, rides with the Winter Park snowboarding team, and that Tuck personally sponsored another skier on the team who needed some financial assistance.
“That was the kind of guy he was,” Stirt said. “That kid needed help and Dave helped him. He kept his skier dream alive.”
Franzen also said he is interested in continuing to help Strap in for Life become a legacy that Tuck would be proud of.
“His spirit wanted to live on. His spirit IS living on,” Franzen said. “He’s just not in pain anymore.”