Darien's Hackers for Hope continues to fight cancer through golf fundraiser
Long-time Darien resident Hap Taylor said he’s been friends with Tim Brown and Alfred Smith, the founders of Hackers for Hope, for years — and first it was “let’s go play some golf and go to the party.”
“But then it became real,” Hap said.
“My biggest thing was the realization epiphany. This is not just a fun event where you go give some money and feel good about yourself now,” he added.
That epiphany came when his daughter, Beau, was diagnosed with lymphoma during her junior year at Darien High School in 2012.
Beau’s diagnosis came at an already difficult time for the Taylor family — they lost Hap’s father, Beau’s grandfather, the same week.
Hap talked about Beau’s strength in fighting the cancer — and dealing with the aggressive chemotherapy she endured to treat it at Yale.
“They told her she didn’t have to come back for more treatment two weeks, but she came right back,” he told The Darien Times.
Hap said at the time Darien HIgh School was amazing in helping Beau not fall behind.
“She took off the time from school and they were very good in letting her catch up — she graduated with her class. She really wanted to walk with them,” he said.
Hackers for Hope held its first event in 1988. Each year, 12 to 20 golfers (or Hackers) play as many holes of golf as they can in a single day. Friends, colleagues and supporters sponsor teams or individuals through per-hole pledges or outright donations.
In the spring of 1986, Alfred E. Smith IV and Edward D. “Tim” Brown were diagnosed with cancer while in their 30s. As a result of their prognosis, each underwent chemotherapy or radiation and neither was able to return to work for the remainder of that year. Both members of Wee Burn Country Club, they spent the summer of 1986 on the golf course.
Despite feeling weak from their treatment, playing golf allowed them physical activity outside and refocused their attention away from their disease to a more positive, attainable goal — improving their golf game.
In 1988, Smith and Brown wanted to do something to raise funds for the American Cancer Society while making use of their golf skills. The original group of golfers in the marathon fundraiser played from sun up to sundown. Wee Burn fully supported their efforts and they raised $47,000 the first year. Since then, Hackers for Hope has refocused to provide funding for local cancer research in the New York and Connecticut area, such as Bennett Cancer Center at Stamford Hospital and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
“One of the bigger moments at Smilow (Cancer Center in Yale New Haven Hospital) in the pediatric ward was talking with Beau about kids there that aren’t going to leave the hospital. It was a gripping moment,” Hap said.
Hackers for Hope is “such a good cause,” he said.
“It is so much about people giving — it really helps. There’s doctors’ research that’s getting there. It’s what makes it real for me anyway,” Hap said.
On Beau’s part, surprisingly, she says if she had the choice, “I don't think I'd go back and remove that experience from my life.”
“While I'm only 22, cancer isn't the worst thing that's happened, and in an odd way, no matter how frustrated I get about what a roadblock it was, I can't help but be grateful for what I've learned thanks to that ugly little tumor,” she said.
Beau added that it isn’t about her.
“The magnitude of support I did and continue to receive from this town is overwhelming. There are too many people to thank but I tear up every time I think of how far some went to make sure I was OK,” she said.
“Between students and staff at Darien High School, those involved with Hackers for Hope, my friends and those of my family, my maternal grandparents and of course my mother and father, Hap and Lisa Taylor, I can't say I got through lymphoma — we did. When you can't believe in yourself, listen to those who believe in you,” she said.
“When you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel, let others see it for you. That's what an unimaginable amount of people — especially my parents — did for me and I don't think I'd be here without that,” Beau said.
Beau especially thanked her parents for her strength, saying her father, Hap, was “the hero I needed.”
Beau’s mother, Lisa, died in 2015 at the age of 48.
“If my mom was still here I'd be thanking her for the words only a mother can give that got me through the day; many times they were the only thing that could,” she said
For the past several years, Hackers for Hope has supported research being done by Dr. Bhuvanesh Singh, a surgeon and Director of Epithelial Cancer Biology Laboratory. He described a compound which has been shown to inhibit cancer growth in mice. It's an exciting development because it also shows preventative qualities. He explains that this is considered "high risk" work which would never get funding through traditional means. Dr. Singh states "it's because of Hackers For Hope's support that we are where we are and it's because of the continuing support that we will go to the next level."
Looking back at the 29 years of Hackers For Hope, Al Smith reflected "it's been very rewarding for me. You help people get into the right hospital with the right doctors at the right time."
"At the end of the day, we are making a difference and that's what you want to do in life — make a difference," said Smith.
Hap and Beau want to help cancer patients themselves by providing items that aren’t necessary medically but make patients more comfortable during chemo treatments.
For example, there’s a mouthwash that helps with sores resulting from treatment that costs $800.
“Things like that are what we are looking into,” Hap said.
One of the ways the Taylor family gets through tough times is laughter.
“We make light of everything. She just says funny stuff. We have always been like that, when things are down,” Hap says.
But fundamentally, Hap says it is his daughter’s strength that has gotten her through life so far and will continue to do so.
“She’s a fighter,” he says.
“You feel like you’re bulletproof at 17 years old. She’s had a lot of loss in her life, and she’s sticking through it. I know she can fight through anything,” Hap said.
Beau said when she and her peers were younger, they’d talk about how they felt they were growing up in a perfect bubble in Darien.
“We didn't appreciate this place. Now I realize no matter where you are sometimes life bursts your bubble and if it does, this one will be here to carry you,” she said.
The 29th annual Hackers For Hope event will be held on Friday evening, Sept. 29 at Wee Burn Beach Club in Rowayton.
Over the years, Hackers For Hope has raised close to $15 million.
More info: hackersforhope.org