Shiner community runs to support UHV athlete
Jennifer Lee Preyss
Jan. 6, 2013 at 10:04 p.m.
Updated Jan. 6, 2013 at 7:07 p.m.
Drumbeats from remixed pop songs echoed through Shiner's Comanche Stadium as Donald Pohler cupped his hands and blew warm breath into his gloves.
The thin, green latex surgeon's gloves scarcely warmed Pohler's hands, chilled from the cool morning breeze fanning the high school stadium.
Pohler's gloves weren't intended to protect him from the weather. They were meant to protect his 19-year-old son, Matt Pohler, from any germs his father might bring home from the cancer benefit Sunday at the stadium in his son's honor.
"I don't want to bring anything back to the house" that may affect his son, said Pohler, who was also wearing a matching surgeon's mask during Sunday's Friends of Matt cancer benefit barbecue and 5K run-walk. "When I get home, I'll take these off and throw them away."
Pohler said his son was diagnosed in November with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Since then, Pohler and his family have been doing all they can to beat the cancer into remission - wearing protective gloves and masks and paying for Matt Pohler to receive the best medical treatment available at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Cancer treatment isn't cheap, though, said Pohler, and his son's partial medical insurance does little to defray costs of premium medicine.
That's why the community came together Sunday to organize the barbecue and 5K fundraiser for their favorite University of Houston-Victoria golfer.
"The night I found out he was sick, I was angry at God, pounding on the steering wheel and telling God, 'Don't you take this boy from me,'" said Pohler, wiping a tear from his eye. "But I see what this community has done for him - the love they have for him - and it's overwhelming."
Matt Pohler, who was an athlete in high school and at UHV, will not be able to continue attending classes or golfing at the university until his doctors sign off on his wellness.
"When he's better, he may go back," Pohler said. "We just have to wait until he gets through his chemo."
At the base of the stadium and scattered throughout the Comanche bleachers, 170 runners and walkers gathered in near-freezing temperatures to run three miles to raise money for Matt's cancer treatments.
Included in the $25 registration fee for the 5K was an orange T-shirt that read, "Team Matt: Unite and Fight."
"The attitude out here today is celebratory. We want to celebrate Matt for what kind of kid he is," said the event's organizer Courtney Welch, 33, Matt Pohler's former Shiner High School science teacher. "He was in the prime of his life. This is just not supposed to happen. And, as a parent myself, I cannot think of anything worse."
Matt Pohler's cousin, Wendy Blackerby, of Houston, said she was inspired to join the run when she learned the race was raising money for her cousin's treatments.
"I was probably the least fit of everyone out here," Blackerby quipped. "But Matt is determined to stay strong, and he inspired me to be determined and stay strong."
Another runner, Ashley Leita, 23, said she was simply excited to support a good cause.
"I didn't know anything about it until I signed up," she said. "It feels good to be helping someone out."
Sunday's event, which included the 5K race, a barbecue meal, raffle ticket sales and a silent auction, raised more than $70,000 for Matt Pohler's treatments.
"I just want everyone to know that when they all ran this morning, they ran with us. And we are thankful for them from the bottom of our hearts," Pohler said. "He still has a fight ahead of him. But it looks good. It all looks like it's going to be good."