By LESLEY GRAHAM
Anyone who has stopped by a field hockey game in Ocean City over the past 10 years or so has inevitably noticed Mikenzie Helphenstine standing along the sidelines.
A decorated player during her tenure as a Red Raider in the late 1990s, Helphenstine has continued to be a fixture with Ocean City field hockey for much of the past 20 years.
So on Thursday, after a 4-1 victory over rival Mainland, the Ocean City field hockey program – past and present – took time to honor Helphenstine, affectionately known as “Coach H,” for her dedication and commitment to the program and her strength and determination to continue her fight against breast cancer.
Diagnosed with breast cancer in August of 2011, Helphenstine never stepped away from the sideline. In fact, it helped her stay focused and motivated to fight – continuing to impact the young women’s lives she was grateful to be a part of.
In October of 2016, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. In short, the cancer had spread to her liver and back bone, a fight she continues to this day.
Yet still, she is on the sidelines – cheering for her daughter, Andi, a junior captain, and coaching the intermediate school players not only the foundations of skill, but more importantly, the value of teamwork.
That idea of teamwork has been central to Helphenstine’s fight against cancer and a community that has rallied around her over the past ten years. Whether it was meals dropped off, notes sent or flowers left on the porch, Helphenstine has been able to feel the support throughout her journey.
“Every doctor’s appointment and treatment, I take a piece of this town with me. I wear a hat, shirt, something. They are always with me because this community is a blessing, and those blessings are so humbling,” Helphenstine said.
Those blessings were abundant Thursday as more than 80 former and current players, coaches, family and friends came to show their love and support to Helphenstine after the game.
Kelsey Burke, the current head varsity coach of the field hockey program, said, “Our program is built on simple foundations: teamwork, work ethic, and grit. Coach H embodies these pillars and exhibits them daily. She has been such a huge part of our program and a true role model for every female athlete.”
As her fight continues, Helphenstine is just one example of how cancer can touch a community. Cancer that has undoubtedly touched the lives of so many. One that does not discriminate on age, race, income or circumstance. One that is cruel and relentless and powerful.
But from that darkness comes light and the strength to fight for those around us – friends, family, neighbors and strangers alike.
And it is within that gathering of community that Ocean City has realized the depth of love and resiliency and hope — for all those fighting for Mikenzie.