Bright pink shoelaces with yellow tips are the season’s new fashion for supporters of Laces for Lana, the Yale women’s crew team’s fundraising campaign to promote breast health.
Named after the mother of former captain Taylor Ritzel ’10 and her sister McLane Ritzel ’14, Lana Ritzel, who died of breast cancer in November 2010, Laces for Lana was founded by rowers Steph Madner ’11 and Mary Jo Toothman ’12. Since November the team has sold over 1,000 pairs of laces to Yale students and supporters across the country, donating all proceeds to the Get in Touch Foundation, a nonprofit that provides breast health educational materials to high schools across the world.
“We wanted to do something meaningful for Taylor and McLane,” Madner said. “You feel helpless when something like this happens to a close friend.”
Madner and Toothman had the idea for the campaign while selling T-shirts in the Woolsey Rotunda during Cancer Week last November as part of a team effort to support cancer research. Toothman said that she wanted to find a way for the team to demonstrate their support for the Ritzel sisters after their mother passed away.
“The idea to sell hot pink laces came to me, firstly because I wanted something that was very visible so that when [Taylor and McLane] and others who have been affected by breast cancer walk down the street and see a person randomly wearing our laces they will recognize that our team, and Yale in general, are communities that care,” Toothman said. “Secondly laces came to mind because everyone could buy a pair for the cost of admission to a Saturday night [at] Toad’s.”
According to Madner, the women’s crew team was responsive to the idea from the very beginning. Rower Nikki Grigg ’12 said that on the very first day that the laces were available, she saw the entire team wearing them at practice. To get the team involved, Madner organized packaging parties. Since the laces arrived in bulk, they had to be separated into individual packets, folded into bows and taped before they could be sold. The team sold its 1,000th pair this week.
“It’s great to think back to the fall, when we had our first team shoelace-wrapping party in Steph’s room,” said rower Armine Afeyan ’12. “It’s been such a team effort all the way, rooted in our shared love and support for Taylor, McLane and their family.”
Other women’s teams have shown their support for the cause. All members of the women’s hockey team have purchased the laces and wear them around campus.
McLane noted that at first it was hard to get men’s teams to buy the laces at the same rate as the women’s teams, but over time they became more willing to wear them.
“Guys have this belief, maybe it’s because we’re called the gay Ivy, that if they wear pink laces it’ll mean they’re gay. But just the other day I was in Commons and I saw a guy who I didn’t know that was wearing pink laces, and then in ‘Food Psych’ I saw another guy I’d never spoken to wearing them,” McLane said.
The women’s crew’s efforts have been received positively outside of Yale as well. Afeyan said that the team sold the shoelaces at the CRASH-B sprints last weekend. At the end of the regatta, not a single shoelace remained. She added that rowers across the country have been placing orders for the laces. Taylor has also sold the laces to members of the U.S. national team, of which she is a member. Other crew teams have also volunteered to sell the laces at their schools.
Mary Ann Wasil Nilan, the founder of Get in Touch, welcomed the support of YWC. Wasil Nilan’s foundation promotes breast health with its Daisy Wheel breast health initiative. A Daisy Wheel is a circular card slightly larger in diameter than a CD with an eight-step procedure for breast self-examination that girls can do on their own. Get in Touch distributes Daisy Wheels to schools free of charge.
“The Daisy Wheels have just been super successful,” Wasil Nilan said. “They’ve opened the floodgates for girls to talk to their school nurses about their bodies, breasts, sex. I say that I want girls to ‘know their bodies better than their mothers ever did and their grandmothers would have ever approved of.’”
Madner and Toothman chose the Get in Touch foundation because Taylor and another former rower, Mary Pat Wixted ’10, had been student ambassadors for the organization while at Yale.
Wixted said that she met Wasil Nilan at mass at the Catholic chapel Saint Thomas More. Later, when Ritzel’s mother, Lana, was diagnosed with breast cancer, Wixted introduced Ritzel to Wasil Nilan.
Madner said that she and Toothman preferred Get in Touch over larger foundations because it was personal.
“We could see where the money was going,” Madner said. “The way I see it, each sale is worth another four Daisy Wheels.”
Taylor’s younger sister, McLane, said that last semester, she was not able to get involved with the Laces for Lana because of her mother’s passing. This semester, even though she said the pain is still there, she has started wearing the laces and keeping a bag of them for sales with her at all times.
“It was really an honor for them to do this,” McLane said about the team’s efforts. Helping sell laces “is helping with the pain.”
Get in Touch is actively distributing Daisy Wheels in over 42 American states and 13 foreign countries.