The off-season trip to Louisville, Ky., was supposed to be a relaxing getaway with her daughter. But like everything else in her life, it turned into so much more.
In March 2012 Sarah and David Patterson’s oldest daughter, Jessie Patterson Jones, learned her sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha, wanted to initiate Sarah as an honorary member during their national convention in June. But Sarah’s mind wasn’t thinking past nationals – “You try getting my mom to add anything major to her schedule in the middle of a gymnastics season,” Jessie said. As the season went on, she used her dad, David, to wear Sarah down and get her to consider the trip.
After Alabama won its second consecutive gymnastics national championship, Jessie was able to convince Sarah to make the trip in June of 2012.
During the trip, Sarah was pegged as the keynote speaker at the convention and was scheduled to be officially initiated into the sorority. Before the dinner, the two attended lunch and listened to a “State of the Fraternity” address in which Sarah’s eyes were opened to all of the things the sorority did to help others.
Once she took in all the sorority had to offer, Sarah told Jessie, “You go have fun; I have to go rewrite a speech.”
She spent the rest of the day in her hotel room working on a speech she would deliver to 850 collegiate and alumnae Zeta Tau Alpha Convention attendees. The theme of the weekend was “triple crown” and Sarah drew inspiration from there. She spoke about the triple crown she had experienced in a three month span – winning her sixth national championship with husband David, watching her younger daughter Jordan win Alabama’s first national championship in school history and being able to take a trip with Jessie.
“You’ve heard my mom when she gets going,” Jessie said. “It’s so cool.”
And as Jessie puts it, “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”
Still, Patterson’s speech received more than hugs and tears.
“The Foundation board was sitting together near the front. We were so moved by her speech and her dedication to the Power of Pink that we knew we had to make a significant donation,” said ZTA Foundation President Becky Kirwan. “Our brief conversation started with $5,000 and by the time we went around the table, we decided it had to be $25,000.”
“That was probably one of the most rewarding times of starting this Power of Pink, seeing this group donate and recognize it. They’re not even from Tuscaloosa, but this money goes to disadvantaged women in West Alabama,” Sarah said.
That is the impact of Sarah Patterson. But more importantly, that is the Power of Pink.
For one night, the opponent doesn’t matter. Even the gymnasts don’t matter to a certain degree, as they are stripped of their accolades and introduced as “Ashley Priess with a two-month breast cancer survivor,” or “Kim Jacob with a 20-year cancer survivor.” For one night, the Alabama gymnasts put off their hopes of scoring 9.9s and flip only for awareness.
Only the 18 survivors matter in the grand scheme of things, as a brief part of their struggle is told in front of thousands of fans, cheering, in this instance, for the cause and not the sport. It’s an opportunity these women may not have been afforded if not for the efforts of Patterson and others who capitalized on a chance to do something bigger than themselves.
“I’ve always thought that if one person walks out of Coleman Coliseum on Friday night and they thought more about it or they go get a test and it brings awareness, then all the effort, time and energy we’ve placed into it is a good thing,” Sarah said.
The Power of Pink has raised awareness and a total of $1.35 million for the DCH Breast Cancer Fund, including $104,400 raised since last year and the $25,000 Zeta Tau Alpha National Foundation donated in Sarah Patterson’s name this summer.
“I’ve been to all different types of people about this and no one has ever said no,” Sarah said. “If you ask why, it’s because everybody knows someone that has been affected.”
The pink movement takes over the University and the city of Tuscaloosa in the spring. What started with UA art professor Craig Wedderspoon and a group from the University lighting the front of Coleman Coliseum pink prior to the 2010 Power of Pink has grown year-by-year. This year, Wedderspoon and company will light the Coliseum pink along with several Tuscaloosa landmarks (including the Bama Theatre downtown), businesses and University properties such as sorority row, while Duane Lamb, Alabama’s assistant vice president for Facilities & Grounds Operations, has led the way in lighting such campus landmarks as Denny Chimes and the Ferguson Center fountain in pink.
“People work night and day to get this done and everybody keeps helping to make it grow,” Sarah said. “I think it’s great for people to have a cause.”
Ten of Alabama’s 11 female varsity sports will compete in “pink” games, meets or matches. While the Pattersons and Alabama don’t officially get credit for starting the pink movement, since the first meet in 2005, more than three dozen of the nation’s top gymnastics programs have either hosted or participated in a pink meet, including every member of the SEC. The Women’s Basketball Coaches Association started its pink initiative in 2007 and encouraged its members to participate in a Think Pink week. Women’s soccer, volleyball and even the NFL and Major League Baseball have openly picked up the cause.
Once the tears are shed and the celebration settles, a competition will take place. The two-time defending NCAA Champion Alabama gymnastics hosts No. 15 Kentucky on Friday, Jan. 25 in the Crimson Tide’s ninth annual Power of Pink meet.
Alabama faced Kentucky in the 2011 Power of Pink meet on Feb. 18.
While most wouldn’t be able to fight back the emotions and perform under the pressure, it fuels these gymnasts.
“I just feel like it’s an opportunity to not put so much pressure on ourselves and recognize people who have real concerns,” senior Ashley Sledge said. “They’re fighting for their lives and their families. It’s bigger than Alabama and Kentucky. It’s a movement and an honor to be a part of it.”