A Blessing In Disguise
Cancer is known to be a deadly disease and taking away a life, but for some, it can help create new one. At, 17 years old, Mike Slonina from Watertown, Massachusetts found out that his mother was falsely diagnosed with a brain tumor. However, seven years later, he has used the sport of basketball to help with that tough period in his life, and turned it into a fundraising event used to raise money for cancer research, now called “A Shot For Life”. The first event had officially started on April 9th of 2011 which raised 17,000 dollars. It is an idea of shooting continuously for 24 hours all around the court, which was created when Mike was in high school. Mike went on to explain his motivation behind it, in his own words “A Shot For Life was born from the worst nightmare of my life which was when my Mom was diagnosed with what was thought to be a cancerous brain tumor. As a 17 year old I had to grapple with the reality that I was going to lose my Mom. That’s impossible at any age, but never mind for a kid. I hated that I felt like a victim. The truth is psychologically I needed ASFL, I needed to feel like I had some control in a situation where I realistically had none.” As a teenager, Mike talked about how he discovered that his mom had thought to be diagnosed with a cancerous tumor and how he handled it, “My Mom sat me down on the couch late in my junior year of high school, she pulled out a white piece of paper and drew a little dot. She told me that she was having migraine headaches and went in for a scan as a precaution and they found what they thought was a cancerous tumor and basically that they didn’t know how long she had to live. I don’t have a good relationship with my Dad so my Mom is my only guardian and I was a 17 year old kid hearing this. To be totally honest, the news didn’t really sink in right away. It’s such a nightmare thing to hear that you almost go numb a little bit. Also, and this is not to sound cold at all, but in the following few weeks I started trying to figure out how I was going to support myself and live. I was obviously beyond heartbroken and what I thought was going to happen but I also had to grow up very quickly and figure out how I was going to survive." Even though his mother’s diagnoses was the main motivation behind everything, it was also his health condition which cut his basketball career short, at just the age of 13 years old.
He went on to explain how it happened, “It was my second game at Catholic Memorial as a seventh grader on the eighth-grade team. I got a pass on the wing and gave a player a head fake. When he went by, I drove left, jumped to my right, went up to go for a layup – and when I went up a player was coming down with full force on my ankle pulling it out of place, though we wouldn’t know that that’s what happened for years. I hadn’t played well in my first game and was struggling to find a rhythm at a new school so I kind of demanded to stay in the game and did a lot more damage to it. I woke up the next morning with my ankle about triple in size and extremely swollen. It would stay like that for about 4-5 years.” Although it was hard to come to grips with knowing that his playing days were over, it was his love for the game that kept him involved, which developed at a young age. “My love for basketball is truly autonomous. My grandmother Slonina tells a story sometimes that when I was a baby they brought me a ton of baby-sized athletic equipment and put it in my crib. As the story goes, there was a little hockey stick, a basketball, a baseball, and a football. When they went to take them all back to put them away apparently I wouldn’t give up the basketball and cried when they took it from me.” The love of the game kept him focused on preparing his body to withstand the endurance to even shoot for the whole 24 hours. It wasn't an easy feat to do so but nonetheless, he achieved his goal, even it seemed as if he had to go through extreme measures. “I trained three times a day for about 10 months. I would do a shooting workout in the morning, lift and or bike at lunch, and I would do another shooting workout at night,” Mike said. “My high school was very accommodating letting me shoot during school and also letting me lift during school. I got heat stroke a few times and had to be rushed to the hospital once while training. I would go a day or so without eating and then workout with a trash bag on. I didn’t do this because I’m crazy, I did this because I had to simulate the exhaustion that I would feel in the 17th hour. I needed to make sure that mentally I was prepared for what no one has ever done before.” Mike had to go to three doctors just to get cleared to host the event for the first time. The first doctor thought his body would collapse and might put him in serious danger. Then the second didn’t think it was a bad idea but thought he was hallucinating. As far the third doctor? He Mike continued not to take no for an answer, and somehow did some convincing until he was approved. The persistency to keep trying is well documented, and the only reason why A Shot for Life exist as a successful fundraiser today and allowed Mike to make this a full-time gig. “I struggled so much to find a full-time job after college,” he said. “My plan was to work somewhere full time while running A Shot for Life at night and then eventually take ASFL over full time once it was big enough. After getting my psychology degree at Quinnipiac University and building a company from when I was 17 I still could not get a call back from any legitimate company. It was extremely frustrating. In August of 2016 I decided that I was just going to jump in and go get it.” A Shot For Life has even managed to get the Boston Celtics to sign on as a sponsor, which is a prestigious NBA franchise. The team invests its money into the Battle of the Badges game which is a charity basketball game between the Boston Police and the Boston Fire Departments. Their most successful day came on the 3rd annual ASFL even that ended up earning up to 40,000 dollars. However, Mike made it clear that the fundraiser was about more than raising money. He said, “All of these highly recruited players take the time out of their summer to fundraise for cancer research which says everything you need to know about them as people. These players are so talented and athletically gifted that I think a lot of times people forget they’re still 16-18 year old kids. To do something positive for the world outside of themselves on top of all of the pressure they need to deal with says everything about them. I’m proud to share a jersey with every one of them.” Eventually, though Mike wants to expand A Shot For Life into a nationwide organization to help bring hope.
“I developed a nerve damaged left ankle when I was 13 years old which effectively ended my basketball career before it could really get started.”
One has to wonder how someone would feel after participating in this charity event, so leave it up to Mike to tell you, “Best feeling in the world. Every cliché you’ve ever heard of someone winning a championship made sense at that moment. There is no joy like I felt at that moment. Elation, relief, vindication, and proud. I broke down when I got back into the locker room after. I trained for about a year but that was a painful 6-year process that was put behind me in that moment. Everything I went through suddenly became worth it. I knew what I just accomplished and I knew that no one could ever take it away from me. As someone who had quite a bit taken from him, there’s really no feeling more satisfying than that.” Referring to 24-hour A Shot of Life event which was a world record for the highest shooting percentage from all over the floor for 24 consecutive hours (recognized by recordsetter.com). Mike also tore his shooting wrist in the 4th hour but still shot over 75% for the final 20 hours, which is unbelieveable! March 25, 2017: The Battle of the Badges sponsored by the Boston Celtics May 21, 2017: 1st annual Zero Gravity A Shot For Life Campaign For A Cure, an AAU tournament which will take place at three different locations in Massachusetts
“Cancer makes people feel so helpless. There’s something paralyzing about a cancer diagnosis. I want ASFL to do for other people what it did for me. I want people to feel like they can hit cancer back and they don’t have to be a victim.”