Spring Grove soccer attacks melanoma, honors Swiger the survivor
This story originally ran in October 2015.
Victoria Swiger walked over to Spring Grove coach Meghan Mahon during a summer practice, eyes glossing over with tears.
Swiger struggled to breathe and couldn't run any longer, she told Mahon while crying. Swiger's lungs were still recovering from an operation from her second fight with melanoma.
Mahon's response made Swiger cry even harder, but those tears turned from tears of frustration and sadness to tears of appreciation and joy.
The coach told Swiger that the team would hold one "blackout" game — black is the color associated with melanoma awareness — to honor her during her senior year.
And so Tuesday night, the Rockets hosted their first "Melanoma Night" at Papermakers Stadium. Swiger's name blared over the loudspeaker during the pregame introductions, and more than 100 fans dressed in black shirts erupted.
The crowd also cheered when Swiger's younger sister, freshman Catherine Swiger, was introduced in the starting lineup, marking the first — and likely only — time the two sisters would play in a high school game together.
"We've been waiting for that since we started playing," said Victoria Swiger, who hadn't been able to play yet this season. "I was really excited to play with her, we get along so well."
She played the first minute of the game before jogging over to the sidelines and hugging Mahon before returning to the bench.
Doctors first diagnosed Swiger with melanoma at age 13, when the skin cancer was discovered in a mole she wanted to have removed before an end-of-school-year pool party.
Swiger played for Spring Grove her first three years of high school, including her entire freshman season when she received weekly interferon injections that she said made her feel as if she had the flu every day.
The injections helped clear the melanoma from her body, but halfway through her junior year, in early 2015, a routine CAT scan revealed the cancer had returned. Surgeons deflated her left lung as part of a successful surgery on her left side, and although Swiger is cancer-free again, she decided not to play soccer her senior year because the lasting impact of that operation causes her to struggle to catch her breath.
"No matter what she's doing, she never complains about anything," Spring Grove junior Abbie Marquette said. "When she had the surgery on her lungs, she just kind of left school and didn't really tell people."
Swiger has attended every game this season as well as several practices, taking a role of an assistant coach to her teammates. She's been playing with some of her current teammates for nearly a decade.
"I've been playing with her since we were little, so it's weird not having her on the field because I'm so used to that growing up," said Spring Grove senior Leanna Miller, who scored in the Rockets' 3-0 win on Tuesday. "But she really knows what she's talking about, she's a smart player. It's a bummer that she can't play."
Swiger's parents, older sister, Elizabeth, and other family members watched Tuesday's game wearing black shirts with the words "Team Tori" stripped across the left chest side in gold lettering. Other parents hosted a bake sale that raised funds to be donated to the Spring Grove mini-thon.
The idea for the blackout game actually started when Swiger suggested it to some of her teammates years ago.
"A couple years ago, we were talking about doing a pink out, and (Swiger) said, 'Why don't we do a black out to support melanoma (awareness)?' because that's what she had," Marquette said. "We thought, 'Everyone does a pink out, so why not do a black out?"
The idea stuck in her teammates' and coaches' minds and finally came to fruition Tuesday night.
Swiger and her teammates wore black warm-up T-shirts that said "melanoma" on the front with a design turning the "O" into a large soccer ball, and the words "protect your own" emblazoned on the back in teal lettering. The slogan, Mahon said, is a play on words that means both "protect your own skin" and "protect your own family," since the event is their way of showing support for their teammate.
"She's one of the strongest people I know," Miller said of Swiger. "We have a mini-thon every year and she's usually a shy person, in years past she would never really get up and talk in front of people. But this past year, she got up and spoke in front everyone. I feel like it's made her that much stronger of a person."
Rockets players designed the "protect your own" slogan, along with Swiger's initials and numbers, into the fence using white plastic cups.
Many on the team and in the crowd wore clear wristbands that were being given out that read "Prevent Skin Cancer" on one side and "Protect" on the other, and turn from a clear color to a purple color when hit by the sun.
The crowd watched as the two teams played a scoreless first half, prompting Mahon to tell her players they had to play harder in the second half to win the game for Swiger. The Rockets responded, as junior Abby Erlemeier broke the tie six minutes into the second half, and added a second goal to ice the game in the final minutes.
"It was just a rush, honestly," Swiger said of the whole night. "It was really nice support."
Second half — SG, Abby Erlemeier, 34:10. SG, Leanna Miller, 25:06. SG, Erlemeier, 2:27.
Shots on goal — NO 1, SG 10; Corners — NO 1, SG 3; Goalies — NO, Briana Ditzler. SG, Carlie Marquette.
JV score — 0-0