Teaming up against skin cancer

 “It’s the best way to spend the worst day of the year.”

For the friends and family of University of Alberta student and elite athlete Owen Schlosser, June 2nd is a day of mixed emotions. It marks the day Owen was lost to melanoma, a mere four months after becoming one of the 43 Albertans who hear the words “you have cancer” every day. That’s why around June 2nd each year, hundreds of people come together for Win4Skin, the ultimate 3-on-3 street hockey tournament. Win4Skin raises funds for the Alberta Cancer Foundation in support of the Cross Cancer Institute’s Mary Johnston Chair in Melanoma Research and the Owen Schlosser Endowment Fund through the Edmonton Community Foundation to support underprivileged athletes. Though participants have a lot of fun and take pride in the success of Win4Skin’s fundraising efforts, the event’s other purpose is to pay tribute to the incredible life of Owen Schlosser.

University of Alberta medical student David Chapman will never forget the day his close friend Owen revealed the news of his diagnosis.

“He sent us a message saying that he didn’t want to be a buzz kill, but he was told he had skin cancer. He mentioned that he didn’t know much about it, but he would be set up at the Cross for a little bit,” remembers David.

David and the rest of Owen’s friends were obviously concerned but skin cancer seemed to be a minor obstacle that Owen could overcome. After all, Owen ate healthy, played multiple sports at a competitive level and had the most positive attitude out of anyone they had ever met. 

Owen started to experience symptoms immediately following his diagnosis. His doctors soon confirmed that the cancer had spread, indicating a diagnosis of stage four melanoma with few conventional therapy options available. After an unsuccessful experimental trial in Florida, Owen returned home to be with his family. He eventually went to the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton where he passed away.

The following September, David got to work. He had an idea for an event that would give something positive for people to look forward to each year around the time of Owen’s passing.

“I was trying to find a way to deal with it I guess. Some sort of distraction for us.”

Without any event planning background, David sought out the help of his friends, family and University Rotaract club. The event, named Win4Skin, would encompass a 3-on-3 street hockey tournament and pay homage to Owen’s athleticism and community spirit by fundraising for the Mary Johnston Chair in Melanoma Research and the Owen Schlosser Endowment Fund for Underprivileged Athletes.

“The Alberta Cancer Foundation’s connection to the Cross Cancer Institute and the melanoma research chair made the most sense, given that Owen was treated there. I found the Foundation to be so positive and helpful especially with the infrastructure to support the registration and donation collection process,” says David.

Win4Skin achieved an important milestone last year, raising a phenomenal $250,000 for the two charities and has now set a new goal of reaching $500,000 over the next few years. Now in its fifth year, David is still the lead Win4Skin organizer despite his busy medical school schedule.

“Friends and family are a resource I’ve heavily relied on to grow the event and build momentum. It just all comes together because the committee (Sue Trigg, Ron Johnston, Mark Boulter, Laura Chapman, Sarah Ramsay, Alain Chicoine, Tommy Fleming, Jessica Romaniuk, and, of course, the Burnett/Schlosser and Johnston families) and I are passionate about it. I guess the key is to organize something you are passionate about because it makes all of the hard work worth it.”

Through Win4Skin, David had the privilege of connecting with Ron Johnston, son of the late Mary Johnston who championed skin cancer prevention and research for many years before she was lost to cancer in 2004. After calling David in 2010 to thank Win4Skin for their generous contribution to the Mary Johnston Chair in Melanoma Research, currently held by Dr. Alan Underhill at the Cross Cancer Institute, Ron offered to take an active role in the Win4Skin committee, helping the event to grow ever since.

This year, Win4Skin is expanding to a two-day event on May 30-31, 2014 to allow participants sufficient time to enjoy the popular banquet event on the Friday night and then come prepared for a full day of men’s and women’s street hockey games run simultaneously on Saturday.

“I love the hockey part of it, although my team’s never won! I make sure to stack my team, but we just can’t do it. I think I’ve said this every year, but this year is definitely ours,” says David.

Register your Win4Skin team before April 11th at because spots are going fast! If you don’t make it on a team, you can still donate, volunteer, attend the banquet or source silent auction items. Every little bit helps Win4Skin to continue redefining the future for Albertans and their families facing skin cancer.

~By Ashton Paulitsch, Alberta Cancer Foundation Communications & Marketing Associate