Ladies Invitational helps battle breast cancer

The 12th Annual USPA Aiken Ladies Invitational drew nine teams of women coming together in the fight against breast cancer for five days in late September at the 302 Polo Club in Aiken, South Carolina. Breast Cancer is the second most common form of cancer in women, taking a back seat only to skin cancer. Nearly 200,000 women battle the disease, and about 40,000 die from it, each year. Risk increases by age, leaving women with a 12 percent (or one in eight) chance of developing the disease in their lifetime. If current statistics prove correct, of the 27 women competing in the tournament, at least three are likely to battle the disease in their lifetime and many more will be indirectly affected by it. Some who have played in the event in previous years have already battled the disease. Fortunately, polo women tend to be a tough breed.

Over the last dozen years, the ladies tournament has helped raise money for the National Breast Cancer Foundation and a program at University Hospital in nearby Augusta, Georgia that provides free mammograms and other breast cancer diagnostics to women (and men) with little or no health insurance. In the last three years the program has been in existence, over $1 million has been raised. Women have received over 1200 mammograms thanks to the funds raised from this polo event. Additionally, thanks to an anonymous polo donor, more than 40 women have gone on to receive further diagnostics, such as ultrasounds, biopsies and other tests needed to fast-track a diagnosis, helping them get treatment quicker. This year the event grossed $39,000, not bad in a sluggish economy. Barb Uskup, marketing and public relations director for 302 Polo held a similar benefit for the NBCF at her club in Chicago when she played there.

While there is no sure way to prevent breast cancer, regular physical activity is one way to help reduce a woman’s risk of getting it. Women who play polo are helping reduce their risk just by being an athlete, and participating in the benefit to help others is icing on the cake.

The tournament was played at two levels. Three teams played at the 3- to 5- goal level in the main tournament, while all but three of those participants also helped fill out the teams in the 0- to 2-goal Campbell Cup, with the teams divided into two brackets.

In the final of the 3- to 5-goal flight, the Sunny Hale-led Taylor BMW team proved too tough to overcome as it downed The Aiken Horse by 10-1. Aiken’s only goal was awarded to it on handicap to start the match. The 3-goal Hale, America’s highestrated woman player, joined forces with 2- goal Sheri-Lyn Hensman from Zimbabwe, Maureen Brennan and Cecilia Cochran. Hale and Brennan scored four goals each, while Hensman and Cochran had one each. Hale was named MVP for her strong leadership and consistent play. Best Playing Pony honors went to Corzone, played by Erica Gandomcar in the third and owned by Pam Gleason and Gary Knowles.

The final of the Campbell Cup had High Cotton’s Rose Sease, Cecilia Cochran, Erica Gandomcar and Sherri Lyn Hensman downing Environmental Works’ Maria Fenoglio (replacing an injured Robin Melton), Fiona Eagle, Natascha Baecher and Rachel Turner. Gandomcar put High Cotton ahead with the first three goals. Fenoglio first put Environmental on the board in the second chukker with a Penalty 3 conversion. High Cotton answered with three more goals, two by Sease and one by Hensman, to take a 6-1 lead at the half. Fenoglio converted a penalty in the third and a field goal in the fourth, but another goal by Hensman put the game out of reach for Environmental and High Cotton took the 7-3 win. Gandomcar was named MVP while Bart Frye’s Apple, played by Maria Fenoglio, took the Best Playing Pony title.

—Rebecca Gutierrez contributed to this report.

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