CLEMSON — Shay Vinson vividly remembers the day three years ago her world came crashing down.
It was January of 2015 and her daughter, Laney, was only three years old. Doctors had some news — the type of news no parent wants to hear.
“She was diagnosed with Pre B ALL Leukemia,” Shay said of her then-toddler. “And so she was in and out of the hospital constantly for three years.”
For Laney, there would be no Pre-K school; no normal childhood activities as she fought a disease at Greenville Health System in the upstate that had her mother reeling.
“It rocks your world,” Shay said.
But good news eventually came and it came in powerful fashion about a year ago.
Laney is now in remission, having finished treatment last summer. She is 7 years old, loves to play basketball and — perhaps most central in her life — is among the biggest Clemson fans in South Carolina.
Wednesday, as she rocked a Clemson hat with a Clemson No. 16 T-shirt and Clemson shorts with hot pink shoes, Laney got to celebrate with the very Clemson football program that has brought her so much joy throughout her fight with cancer. That’s because Wednesday marked Sean Pollard’s second annual “All Off For Cancer” event — an event the Tigers’ junior offensive lineman started a year ago to raise money for and bring awareness to children in the upstate fighting cancer.
Feeling moved to go beyond the normal community service events the Clemson football team does as a group each year, Pollard took it upon himself to visit sick children in the hospital around this time last year with the intentions of making his own personal connections on a deeper level.
He colored with ill children, played video games-galore and walked out of the hospital in tears — sobbing for an hour. So moved, Pollard says it was his faith that called him to do more for these kids and so he started the event, which not only donates money to Clement’s Kindness Fund, but also allots one day in the summer for kids either currently fighting cancer or recently in remission from it to come shave the heads of Clemson athletes.
Laney was on hand as Pollard and a slew of his teammates, including kicker Greg Huegel and several of Pollard’s offensive line teammates, shed their locks and sported buzz-cuts in support of the children. Last year, when the event was in its first year, Pollard raised $5,000. This year, his goal was $15,000 and as of 3 p.m. Wednesday he was nearly a third of the way there with $4,000 raised.
Joined by more-than a dozen other children and their families, Laney was ecstatic. She grinned all afternoon.
“This is what it’s about. It’s not about me, it’s not about me shaving my head, it’s about the kids,” Pollard said. “I’ve not seen one kid frown. They’re honestly not thinking about their cancer right now, they’re thinking about having fun, hanging out with student athletes. And that’s a big deal.”
At Pollard’s request, some of the most recognizable faces from the Clemson football program attended the festivities including Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins, Kelly Bryant, Milan Richard, Kendall Joseph and a host of others. Other sports teams joined in, too.
Laney’s mother, Shay, said the money helps some families with medical payments, some with continuing to pay their mortgages and some with helping their children to continue to have normal experiences.
Next year, in Round 3, Pollard wants to up the goal to $25,000 and take the haircut process a step further, too.
“The beard will come off next year,” he grinned.
“It’s just incredible,” followed Sandra Miller, who works with Clement’s Kindness. “I can’t even begin to explain how grateful we are for Sean. He has the biggest heart we’ve ever met and he just wants to help these kids.
“How selfless is that?”