A young Port Coquitlam basketball player who inspired her teammates even as she fought a losing battle to cancer is now helping three schoolmates from Terry Fox secondary school, and another from Riverside secondary, realize their dreams for post-secondary education.
Chelan Slater, Jake Lewis and Julia Watkins, from Terry Fox secondary, and Riverside grad Breelyn Plesha, are the first recipients of the Karin Khuong memorial awards for courage and resiliency that provides each a $500 bursary for their post-secondary studies.
Khuong passed away last Oct. 4 after a two-year battle with a rare soft-tissue childhood cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma. She was a member of the Terry Fox Ravens junior girls basketball team when tumours were discovered in her chest and stomach in September, 2018. And while an aggressive treatment regime of high-dose chemotherapy for six months prevented her from being an active member of the team’s perfect 35-0 season, she was in her teammates' thoughts when they defeated the Kelowna Owls 76-36 in the 2019 provincial final.
After Khuong’s cancer went into remission, she was able to return to the basketball court, now on the girls’ senior team.
But the cancer returned and Khuong was on the bench when the Ravens reached the provincial AAAA championship final.
After Khuong died, a Go Fund Me campaign raised money for the new $20,000 scholarship fund that will award $2,000 a year to deserving graduating student-athletes for the next 10 years.
Slater, one of this year’s winners, was a teammate of Khuong’s on Fox’s senior girls basketball team. She said she took great strength from sitting beside her friend on the bench as she was also injured for most of the season.
“During this past year, my outlook on life has truly changed,” she said in a news release. “I’ve learned in all situations that you must take whatever good you can from the bad and to have a more positive and grateful outlook.”
Slater, who also plays volleyball and soccer, intends to study kinesiology at Simon Fraser University.
Lewis, who’s headed to SFU as well, is an avid tennis player and active community volunteer. He helped created a partnership between his school’s tennis team and the Charlene Really Children’s Charity Society, he helps out with the school’s Leos Club, makes sandwiches for the homeless and wrote Remembrance Day cards to veterans.
Watkins was an active basketball, lacrosse, soccer and volleyball player until she was diagnosed with scoliosis and Scheurmann’s kyphosis — a curvature of the spine that causes chronic discomfort — when she was 13. Though she curtailed some of her sporting endeavours, she put her energy toward school clubs like student council, the legacy committee and the SD43 student leadership council.
“All of this has inspired me to pursue a career that involves helping others and to seek out a career path in health sciences,” said Watkins, who has been accepted at UBC to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Food Nutrition and Health.
Riverside’s Plesha is a basketball and ultimate player, as well as a cross country runner and active volunteer with her church, the Coquitlam Public Library, her school’s annual Tessa basketball tournament for cancer research as well as its grad committee. She plans to study speech-language pathology.
The winners were determined by a selection committee comprised of Khuong’s family, friends and basketball teammates.