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Former swimmer fights cancer, dreams for wedding

Courtesy of Meghan Kinney

Ohio State students supported fellow Buckeye Meghan Kinney when she was diagnosed with cancer last year, and now they are helping her win her dream wedding.

Former OSU synchronized swimmer Kinney and her fiance John Avrett, who have been together a year-and-a-half, have entered a contest to win a wedding, as Kinney’s extensive medical bills have resulted in financial problems.

It will be a military-style wedding, as Avrett is a second lieutenant with the U.S. Air Force and has been serving for about a year.

Kinney swam on the OSU synchronized swimming team for two seasons during her time at the university.

Along with swimming on the OSU team, Kinney was also named an alternate for the U.S. Olympic team and went to Beijing in 2008. She was training in California for a spot in the London 2012 games when she was diagnosed with cancer.

Kinney was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, bone cancer, last October after doctors found a tumor in her knee.

“It was a shock, this was totally not even in my radar … I didn’t believe it at first, and then I realized it could potentially be a lot more serious than I imagined,” Kinney said.

Kinney stopped her training to fly back to Columbus and receive treatment at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the OSU Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital.

Kinney said she spent about 100 days in the hospital for her cancer. Though she and Avrett had only been together for about six months when she was diagnosed, he spent almost every night with her while she was undergoing treatment.

“He made me laugh even when I was feeling like the lowest of lows. I think this would’ve been a completely different and much more difficult experience had I not had him to go through it with me,” Kinney said.

Avrett proposed after Kinney was finished with treatment. As the couple first met in a coffee shop, Avrett followed suit and proposed at one, too.

“They had the Train song ‘Marry Me’ playing, and it came on while we were just sitting drinking our coffee, and I said ‘Oh, listen, John, it’s our song,'” Kinney said. “And then he was standing there with two glasses of champagne and the ring.”

Avrett entered the Salute to Love contest after the proposal, hoping to find a way to give Kinney her dream wedding, despite the overwhelming expenses of her medical bills.

The Salute to Love contest is sponsored by Operation Homefront, an organization that provides financial and other types of assistance to military families, according to the organization’s website.

Various catering companies, flower companies, photographers and hotels, among others, provide support for the contest.

Kinney and Avrett are among eight other finalist couples competing to win a military-style wedding.

Kinney was surprised when she got the call saying she and Avrett were finalists.

“I was excited, but at the same time I was like, we’re not going to win, so I tried to put it out of my mind,” Kinney said. “We’ve gone a lot farther than I ever thought we would.”

This is thanks to, in part, members of the OSU community, who have banded together to support Kinney and her fiance in the contest.

Support from athletic teams is still going strong. Kate Cline, a second-year in exercise science and current member of the rowing team, created a Facebook page to encourage people to vote for Kinney and Avrett in the Salute to Love contest, even though she’d never personally met Kinney.

Word about the contest has even spread overseas with members of military bases overseas voting in the contest, Cline said.

Deborah Shim, a fifth-year in human development and family sciences, is a student coach for the synchronized swimming team and a former teammate of Kinney’s.

“She just has a spark kind of personality. She’s probably one of the nicest people that I’ve met,” Shim said.

Shim said the team has been emailing the voting link for the contest to class lists and other athletic teams, especially those involved in Team Meghan.

Team Meghan, founded in October 2010, was a fundraising effort started by the rowing team. It was quickly picked up by the synchronized swimming team and other campus athletic teams, said Erika Benford, former rowing team member and one of the founders of Team Meghan.

Benford said the teams sold Team Meghan bracelets, for donation only, to raise money to help Kinney pay for her medical bills.

By Spring Quarter 2010, the effort raised $12,000 in cash alone, with even more contributions made online, Benford said.

“Basically it kind of snowballed … and from there, the athletic department got involved. By that time, pretty much all of OSU was involved,” Benford said.

This Buckeye support has temporarily shifted gears to a different sort of “Team Meghan” to help Kinney and her fiance get a competitive edge in the Salute To Love competition.

Votes can be cast for Kinney and Avrett at obxbrides.com/salutetolove. Voting ends Monday at noon and the contest winners will be announced on Veterans Day.

“If we win the contest, that’d be great, but if not, then at least we got our story out there to so many people and that’s probably the most important thing of all.” Kinney said.

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