About 30 minutes into the two-mile walk, Taryn and Tatum Torina climbed out of the wagon intent on gaining their grandmother’s attention.
Their movement briefly halted the procession of the more than 800 teal-clad walkers marching down Nicholson Drive. But Betty Dieter patiently stepped to the side, hefting one of her granddaughters in her arms before taking the other by the hand.
“Grandkids,” Dieter said in a maternal tone.
She’s just thankful she lived to see them, a prospect that seemed unlikely in late 2009.
Dieter is a six-year survivor of ovarian cancer, the driving force behind daughter and LSU softball coach Beth Torina’s involvement with Geaux Teal, an organization determined to raise awareness about the disease.
Saturday’s fourth annual Geaux Teal Ovarian Cancer Walk featured more than 820 participants and raised $41,210 (both of which are record-highs), most of which will go toward Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge.
Hundreds of people milled about Tiger Park and its adjacent parking lots before and after the walk, partaking in food provided by corporate sponsors served from more than a dozen tents.
But the event took time to grow into the veritable tailgate party it resembled Saturday. LSU players and coaches recalled the inaugural walk, which needed no more than the lot near the team’s clubhouse and a few tents to provide for the 100 people who attended.
“When we first began, the registration was over there in our little tailgate lot,” senior infielder Bianka Bell said. “It was really small.”
It started out even smaller than that.
Upon learning her mother’s diagnosis in November 2009, Torina wanted to do something, anything, to help. So Torina, then coach at Florida International, arranged for her team to wear teal in an ovarian cancer awareness game where her mother threw out the first pitch.
“You feel helpless when one of your family members is diagnosed with this,” Torina said. “There were 20 women sitting in front of me, so I thought, ‘Let me at least teach them about ovarian cancer so I can affect 20 young women.’ ”
But she wasn’t satisfied with just an awareness game. Dieter said her daughter always intended to help a foundation raise money to fight ovarian cancer, and LSU provided Torina that chance.
After the Tigers’ inaugural teal game in 2012 — Torina’s first season in Baton Rouge — the coach received an email from a friend of Licia Chaney, who lost her 29-year-old daughter, Brandi, to ovarian cancer in 2010. Chaney’s friends and family saw LSU wearing teal and wanted to contribute to the cause, leading to the inception of Geaux Teal.
LSU is not officially a partner of Geaux Teal, but the exposure of a top-tier athletic program has expedited the foundation’s development.
“The better that we have gotten and the more people that have paid attention to LSU softball, the more recognition that ovarian awareness gets,” said assistant coach Lindsay Leftwich, a former member of Torina’s FIU staff. “They’re not really linked together; we just help support each other.”
Added Dieter: “This is perfect. It was just a match made in heaven.”
Awareness, Torina said, is Geaux Teal’s ultimate goal. Misdiagnoses or failure to report seemingly commonplace symptoms leave many women unaware of the condition until its late stages, resulting in ovarian cancer’s high mortality rate.
Dieter considered herself “lucky” to have doctor wary enough to order a CT scan. It detected a malignant tumor and lymph nodes, which forced Dieter to endure surgery and chemotherapy until she received a clean bill of health in June 2010.
The retired elementary school teacher said she felt lonely and misunderstood during her battle with ovarian cancer, which she considered a “death sentence” at the time.
She was anything but alone during the two-mile walk.
“This makes you feel like there’s a chance for you and that other people understand what you’re going through,” Dieter said minutes after exchanging pleasantries with a fellow survivor. “I just really feel like LSU and Geaux Teal’s walk and game have given me a new chance to make something meaningful out of something bad that had happened to me.”
Torina’s players did their part before the walk, registering walkers and distributing bags along the Tiger Park concourse. They even participated in the walk along with the South Carolina softball team, their opponent for the fifth annual “Strikeout Ovarian Cancer” game Saturday.
The Gamecocks are helping spread Geaux Teal’s message to a different part of the country, something LSU did itself when it wore teal jerseys in road contests against Georgia and Mississippi State.
The foundation’s future looks bright. Leftwich said the owner of Newk’s, a chain restaurant with a Baton Rouge location, contacted Geaux Teal on Friday and offered to sponsor the walk in the coming years. The owner’s wife is an ovarian cancer survivor.
But even with a record turnout, the highest-earning fundraiser to date and major corporate sponsorships in the works, Torina isn’t done championing Geaux Teal.
“I envision it way bigger than this,” Torina said with a smile. “I think it’s going to keep growing.”