Thanks to Alumnae, a Well-Deserved Hawaiian Vacation

February 18, 2016

As coach, mentor, and friend, Sharon Spalding has forged lasting relationships with Mary Baldwin students across decades. When the athletics director revealed last year that she was facing a third cancer diagnosis, nearly 60 of those former students rallied to fund an all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii for Spalding and her husband, Phil. They surprised Spalding with the good news in the fall.

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Phil and Sharon Spalding on a sunset ride.

Having completed radiation treatment in December, Spalding and her husband spent last week sailing and kayaking, riding on horses and Segway scooters, and exploring waves and waterfalls — thanks to the support of alumnae who donated $5,375.

“I was just blown away,” Spalding said shortly before the early February trip to Oahu and Kauai. “This is the biggest surprise of my life.”

Alumnae who contributed to the vacation spanned Spalding’s career at Mary Baldwin, going back to 1989. Among them was her first student assistant, athletes from her coaching days, and connections she’s made since the establishment of the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership.

Leading the effort was Wella Belser Chetney ’11, who was stationed in Hawaii during her military service and continues to live there with her husband, Justin.

“She is one of the strongest and most inspirational women I know and she has been so brave throughout her journey and battle with cancer. It broke my heart to see it coming back yet again and I just wanted to do something to lift her spirits,” Chetney said. “Sharon profoundly impacted my life during college as both a mentor, cross country coach, and friend. I know she has touched and continues to touch lives every day and I knew there would be many more people that would want to help her, so I decided to create a platform where that could be accomplished.”

Chetney knew a trip to Hawaii would help boost Spalding’s morale, so she set up a crowdfunding page to allow fellow alumnae to easily contribute and pass along their well wishes.

“I am so proud to call you coach, mentor, and friend,” Sue Kellam ’94 wrote on the donation site. “You made my years at Mary Baldwin great!”

“You’ve done so much for us. It’s time that we do something for you,” wrote Patty Nadeau ’06.

“Here’s to you both, Sharon and Phil! Sharon, you have been one of my biggest inspirations and role models since college. You actually are one of the main reasons I have gone into coaching,” wrote Becca Laing Bower ’98. “Thanks to you and your family for being my home away from home while I was in college.”

They surpassed the $5,000 goal within a week to cover the cost of airfare, resorts stay, meals, and a rental car. Spalding was surprised and touched by the gesture.

“I am blessed to have you all in my life,” Sharon wrote on her Facebook page after she learned of the gift. “It always makes me smile keeping up with all my Mary Baldwin ladies on Facebook. To know that I have been a small part of the incredible women you all have become is such a joy for me! Thank you for this and thank you for the words of support, concern and especially the prayers. Thank you, thank you, thank you … there are no words to express my appreciation!”

The mother of two grown sons, Spalding has stayed positive, healthy and strong throughout her cancer treatments. This spring, she is launching a Beat Cancer Boot Camp at Mary Baldwin, designed to help local cancer patients and survivors, and those who love them stay active during treatment.

“We have all had different experiences with Sharon, but the common denominator is that she has profoundly impacted our lives in some way,” Chetney said. “Having someone like Sharon who I could look up to, learn from and seek out for advice was crucial during those formative years and really shaped my experience at Mary Baldwin and the person I’ve become.”