Sunday's regular-season finale for the Orlando Pride is going to be a memorable one. Not only is it a night that could see the Pride qualify for the NWSL Playoffs for the first time since 2017, but it also carries a deeper meaning for the Orlando community. The match is the Pride's annual Breast Cancer Awareness Night, presented by Orlando Health Cancer Institute, helping bring awareness to a disease that affects one in three women in the United States alone.
For two members of the Pride's technical staff, the night hits very close to home.
Courtney Levitt, the Head Equipment Manager of the Orlando Pride, has been with the organization since 2019. Starting out on the men's side, interning with Orlando City, she was promoted to her current position in January of this year after serving as the assistant the last two seasons.
Going from an intern to an assistant and then all the way to the head of equipment was something that took perseverance over the last five years, something that Levitt learned from her mother when she was diagnosed with breast cancer a decade ago.
"My mother had it twice," Levitt said. "I was about in middle school at the time, and she had the mastectomy done the first time, and then, unfortunately, it came back a year later, and she had to have chemo and radiation done at that point. But she's 10 years in remission now and happy and healthy and surviving."
The experience of having her mother, her best friend, going through the scare of cancer twice was a life-altering journey for young Courtney. It helped shape her perspective on life as a whole, taking that mentality into work every day with the Pride.
"You do whatever it takes to get there," Levitt said. "I think in my mom's case, surviving and beating this cancer was the only outcome that she saw, and she did that. Heaven forbid I ever end up down that road, but I know that I will beat it, and it's not gonna stop me. So, I try to translate things like that into my daily life, even lesser important things that I go through. You work hard at something every day, and you'll find the outcome that you want."
It was a similar experience for Kelly Turney, the Head Athletic Trainer for the Pride, who dealt with her grandmother's diagnosis growing up in her late teens.
"The older I've gotten, the more you grow up, the more you realize how much (breast cancer) has touched most of the people in your life," Turney said. "I was fortunate that my grandmother handled treatments well. She didn't suffer a lot, and she was able to overcome it. So, we were very fortunate as a family. But what it did for my mom and for myself was that it put a very strong realization that you have a bigger chance."
After being more self-aware due to her family's history, Turney, herself, had a scare just after graduating college in 2008. Doctors told her that they had felt some abnormalities and that she needed to go get tested right away.
"I'm like, wait, hold on," Turney said, "this is too soon, right?"
Thankfully for her, the tests came back negative. The experience, however, got her much more invested and involved in breast cancer awareness.
"It put me on a schedule to be tested a lot more often and a lot earlier than normal," Turney said. "My mom has gone through a lot of the same things and some of the same scary moments and conversations with doctors, and when it's already in your family and you know that it could be coming or it could be in your future, those doctor's appointments get a little bit scarier."
That experience for her has translated into her work, taking care of the players on the Pride. Being in charge of maintaining players physical performance, Turney has taken it to heart to make sure the team is more aware of getting tested, especially herself.
"I think, as a medical health care professional, it was kind of like a bolt of lightning to be like, you take care of everybody else, now you have to take care of yourself as well," Turney said.
"Creating open and honest conversations and allowing (the players) a space to trust you with things that are sensitive is really important. You hope that by sharing your own personal experiences and how things have happened for you and ways that they can get help, they will trust you and that they will come and talk to you about it and that you can get them the help they need. We've worked with some amazing doctors, and I think they have brought up the self-awareness and the self-testing and how important that is. Ways to help protect yourself, ways to find things early, making sure you're going to your early appointments, making sure you're doing everything you can to protect yourself."
For both Turney and Levitt, the importance of a night to bring awareness to a disease that continues to affect hundreds of thousands of people a year truly cannot be overstated.
"The celebration that we do on match day and things like wearing the pink, wearing the ribbons, are really meaningful for me because of how hard it hits," Levitt said. "I'm proud of the girls for wanting to participate in things like that and participate in everything. I feel like this is my way of trying to reach out to this cause, and I think we're lucky to have a platform that we get to do that."
"To be able to have a night that brings so much attention to a big cause like this, I think that any time anyone can bring awareness, it's important," Turney said. "But to be given an opportunity to work with such an amazing group of women who can put a huge focus on a disease that affects so many women around the world is really important. It's something that we can collectively show that we care and that we want to work for the betterment of all women, for the betterment of health care of all women, and that we are leading the charge to create awareness and to bring awareness and to maybe help the next woman who needs it get resources because of awareness that we have been able to provide."
Learn more about Orlando Heath's Cancer Institute, different types of breast cancer and risk factors by visiting their website here.