In trouble with his mom late last week, Garrett Suter told her to take a look at her facebook account.
When Bonnie Suter logged on, tears filled her eyes when she saw images of 54 Regis Jesuit boys swimmers — including Garrett, a team captain — painting their fingernails “Optimistic Pink” in a sign of support for Suter and her family.
At the age of 45, Suter was diagnosed with advanced stage metastatic breast cancer in October of 2012 and given just two years to live. Now 48, she’s fought her spreading disease and made it three and a half years, buoyed in part by the support of the Regis Jesuit’s tight swim community.
“I just cried my eyes out for 20 minutes straight,” Bonnie Suter said. “Every kid painted their nails, nobody complained and they all had smiles on their faces. It made me just so happy and lifted my spirits when I needed it.
“My cancer is getting a little bit out of control again, so this just renewed my spirit and my focus to continue my battle.”
While Garrett was happy to get out of trouble, he was also glad to share the tribute of his teammates and the handiwork of six team moms and a sister who showed up to paint nails.
“I don’t really like talking about it that much, but the whole team was on board,” Garrett said. “It meant a lot to me and my mom… She’s a huge inspiration to me and she keeps me working hard and pushing, because I know whatever she’s going through is a lot worse than what I’m going through.”
In the first year she started treatment, Bonnie Suter could only make it to a couple of meets and the Class 5A state meet, but since then has rarely missed a meet, either to watch her son Zach — a former Regis Jesuit swim captain who graduated in 2013 and now swims at Seton Hall — or Garrett. She did miss a meet last week, but gladly donned a surgical mask to keep her away from infection so she could attend the Raiders’ huge dual meet at Cherry Creek April 21.
She’s been part of four different clinical trials, makes regular trips to the hospital for shots that help her tolerate a two-weeks-on, one-week-off chemotherapy regimen, but remains positive to the core.
“I had a clean mammogram 2 years prior, so it was a complete shock,” Suter said of her diagnosis.
“I never questioned ‘Why do I have it?’ or said ‘Poor me,’ and pout. My outlook has always been positive. There’s a reason I have cancer and hopefully it is to inspire other people to move forward and work hard and do the best they can.”
“My initial goal was to make it until Zach graduated and get him off to college; then when I got that done, my goal is to see that Garrett graduates and him off to college as well,” Suter said. “After that, my goal will be to get Zach graduated from college.
“I have to set short term goals that are achievable.”
Suter volunteers with the American Cancer Society, making sure to help those diagnosed with cancer understand that everybody is unique and not to let the cold statistics about the disease rule them. She also encourages women to have regular mammograms.
Senior Will Pieseski, another Regis Jesuit team captain whose mom Wendy helped paint nails and posted the pictures online for Suter to see, said the team didn’t hesitate when the idea came up.
“She’s been like a second mom to the whole team, so it was awesome to do something for her,” Pieseski said. “It shows that in the end, Regis is more than about the team and swimming, it’s about coming together and doing things for people.”
Added another senior captain, Quinlan Stuart: “It’s a big deal. One of the captain’s and one of my best friend’s moms has breast cancer, so we’re going to do whatever we can to help her feel better.”
While the first nail painting came as a surprise to Suter, she got to join the team and have her own nails painted when they touched them up a day before the Cherry Creek meet.
The meet didn’t end up in the Raiders’ favor, as the Bruins prevailed 171-144, but there was plenty of goodwill in the pool.
A sign on the wall read “Creek can be Pink for you Bonnie! Be strong!! We are on your team.”
Suter is looking forward to her favorite meet of the year, the Continental “B” League meet, where she likes watching swimmers get their first cuts for the “A” League meet the next week and potentially a state qualifying time that earns them a Regis Jesuit team jacket.
She’s also eager for the 5A state meet May 15-16 at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where Garrett and his teammates will aim to top Cherry Creek — which has beaten them twice this season — in a quest to win their 20th state championship in the past 21 seasons.
Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel