Michael Miceli, a hefty economics major dressed only in a red Superman cape and swim trunks, looked nervous as he stood in the crowded parking lot behind the Union Fieldhouse.
Someone flicked on “Ice Ice Baby” through a big speaker and the crowd took a step back, clearing a runway to a cheap blue plastic inflatable swimming pool.
The classic slow clap pounded through the air as snow curled down. He ran. He jumped. The crimped plastic seams strained but held, forcing a sheet of water 15 feet out over the cheering crowd.
How to donate
Dutchmen Dip donations for Kristen Shinebarger will be accepted through the semester. To donate, click here.
The first Dutchmen Dip to benefit Kristen Shinebarger was held Sunday afternoon at Union College. Kristen herself stood by, a grinning, freckled 10-year-old balanced on two brightly decorated crutches.
More than two years ago, she was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. In September, her right leg had to be amputated just above the knee.
Since her diagnosis, the little girl has had eight surgeries, 22 rounds of chemotherapy and 200 shots spaced over 100 nights in the hospital. It’s the sort of life experience capable of making a kid somber, but she smiled broadly as Miceli came stunned out of the water.
“It gets to you when you go under,” Miceli said, making his way back indoors. “I had this image of it just bottoming out. I figured I’d share the love, let everyone get cold.”
Though the pool was the farthest thing from heated, he said Kristen was totally worth risking hypothermia — a sentiment evidently shared by the whole Speedo-clad Union swim team who followed Miceli in a string of cannonballs and belly-flops.
“She’s gone through more than I ever will,” he said. “I hope.”
According to Kristen’s parents, Shelly and Marc Shinebarger, her trials are near an end.
“There’s no sign of disease,” Shelly said, explaining that the bone cancer was isolated to her right leg. “She’ll be done with chemo in May.”
Even so, she’ll have to be fitted with new prosthetic legs regularly as she grows, “and they can cost as much as a car,” Marc Shinebarger said.
That’s why the fundraiser was necessary. These days all sorts of things are possible, even with a prosthesis. Oscar Pistorius made the Olympics on two of them.
“His cost over $80,000 each,” Shelly said, adding that their insurance only covers the “Chevrolet model” of prosthetic leg.
The leg Kristen wore Sunday was very simple, pretty heavy and doesn’t allow for sophisticated movements like running or dancing.
Her father described walking with it as like trying to move a broomstick holding it by the very end. It’s six pounds, which is a lot for a 50-pound 10-year-old to move with no leverage.
“She deserves to have a childhood,” Shelly Shinebarger said, “She loves to dance. This event helps us concentrate on giving her that rather than how to pay for it.”
Shelly works in student services at the college, which is how the whole thing came about. Maria Dreeszen and Kaitlyn Suarez, co-leaders of the Colleges Against Cancer club wanted to do something for a member of the Union family.
“She’s so little,” Dreeszen said, “which just drives home the fact that this can happen to anyone.”
Suarez was especially invested. The 20-year-old geology major has beaten Hodgkin’s lymphoma three times since age 15.
“My community really stood behind me when I had it,” she said. “They even had a polar plunge fundraiser. It feels good to return the favor.”
The Shinebarger fundraiser has set a rather lofty goal of raising $15,000. With scores of students paying for a plunge, they raised just over $8,000, but donations will be accepted through the end of the semester.