Maria Totushek spent the last seven years using soccer to raise money for cancer patients and in a cruel twist of fate; it’s the same disease that took her own life.
Maria, who coached soccer in Folsom for 15 years, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, but by 2008 when she held her first Kick It Clinic to raise money for Kindra Mitchell, who was battling ovarian cancer, it was in remission. Tragically, the cancer returned in 2013 when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer.
Soon after it returned, Maria and her husband, Kevin, stopped by my office to talk about the upcoming Kick It Clinic. Kevin told me her cancer had returned and through tears Maria vowed to fight.
“As a coach, I’ve asked my players to do things out of their comfort zone, like go defend a bigger, stronger player and maybe they were afraid to do it but they went and did it because I asked them to,” she said. “Now I must do the same thing as they encourage me.”
In 2008, Maria started the Kick It Clinic with help with a group of Folsom teenagers for the dual purpose of teaching the game to youngsters as well as helping a family in need. Maria survived her first bout with cancer and she wanted to help others in need. She told me then that she remembered the love and support she received from friends, family and even from people she didn’t know.
“When someone is going through a life-threatening illness, one of the greatest gifts to receive is the outpouring love and support from the community,” Maria said then. “I have no idea how many people helped me, but I know I couldn’t have done it without them. You don’t have to know someone to help them.”
The fact that she started this clinic, which has raised thousands of dollars for families over the years, tells you a lot about her. In 2009, the clinic was held in support of Jack Handy and in 2010 it was held for Robyn Cunningham. In 2011, the clinic benefited the family of Richard Meredith, who had passed away prior to the clinic. Two years ago, the clinic raised money for Jack Munoz, a 13-year-old battling the disease. In 2013, the clinic was for Rosalie Berumen, who was battling cervical cancer, while last year’s clinic raised money for Dave Collier.
The beneficiary of the first clinic, Kindra Mitchell, who has since passed away from ovarian cancer, was grateful for Maria and the clinic. In 2008, she said this about Maria, who she had yet to meet at the time of the interview.
“I’m very surprised and humbled,” Mitchell said then. “It’s a strange feeling that someone I never met would want to do something so generous. She’s a hero.”
Mitchell was right. Maria, you are a hero.