Val Skinner Foundation

2015 Heroes

2015 Heroes

Ariana and Maria Saenz

Porter, Texas native and First Tee of Greater Houston member Ariana Saenz, 15, was one of 80 junior golfers from across the country that earned an invitation to the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship National Finals held at Augusta National Golf Club.

But Ariana is more than your typical golf prodigy, she’s a story of inspiration for mothers and daughters everywhere.

Ariana began playing golf after undergoing open-heart surgery at age 3. Following the surgery, her doctors suggested that she take up an activity that would keep her active. Her father bought her a set of toy golf clubs, and she’s been playing ever since.

In 2015, her golf game became more than just healthy exercise. It became a key component of her mother’s battle with breast cancer.

Her mother, Maria, was diagnosed in February. Soon after, Ariana signed up for the Drive, Chip & Putt competition in part to offer her mother a distraction from the difficult months ahead. Ariana reached the regional qualifier – one step away from Augusta National – but had to compete without her mother present due to scheduled chemotherapy treatments.

Playing for her mother, Ariana went on to capture the Girls 14-15 Division at the South Central regional qualifier with a score of 119 points. Afterwards, she phoned home to tell her anxious mother they would be heading to the Masters for the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship.

Ariana was also selected to play at the Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach in September 2014.

Ariana credits the game of golf for getting both her and her mother through tough times in their lives and she strives to give back by participating in the First Tee program and encouraging others to pick up the game.

Jamie Pleva Nickerson and Ted Pleva

At the young age of 29, Jamie Pleva Nickerson was diagnosed with Stage I triple negative breast cancer. Her diagnosis came at a time when Jamie and her family were already preparing to say goodbye to her sister, Tracy, who was losing her nine-year battle with the disease.

With Tracy in treatment in New Jersey and Jaime in treatment in New York, their parents then spent months going back and forth between their two daughters’ bedsides making sure to never leave one alone.

Things would get more difficult. Jaime’s father, Ted, had been heartbroken when told that a second daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer. Doctors had already determined that he carried the BRCA1 gene mutation, which is highly correlated with the disease.

Ted had already lost his mother to cancer and two of his aunts to breast cancer before losing his daughter to the disease.

Three months after Jaime was diagnosed with breast cancer, Tracy lost her battle. Jaime struggled with how she would be strong enough to survive when her sister could not.

Drawing on strength from her family, Jaime decided to take back the power from cancer. She had her eggs retrieved and frozen, giving her something extra to fight for – her future family.

One facing a difficult fight with cancer and the other now genetically responsible for it, Jaime and Ted turned to each other for strength.

As they continue their fight, Jaime and her father strive to show other families affected by the disease that they can also keep fighting and beat breast cancer.

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