When a teenage girl shaves her head, there are frequently stares and unkind comments.
After all, it’s not exactly in line with the obsession with appearance common among middle and high-schoolers.
But 13-year-old Hannah Winalski wasn’t deterred when it came time to shave off her foot-long locks as part of a fundraiser for St. Baldrick’s Foundation. In fact, her bald head serves as an opportunity to share her cause – a fierce dedication to ending childhood cancer.
“Mostly people like to touch it and say ‘you’re so pretty, you’re so brave’ but there are some people who make fun of me because they don’t know why I did it,” Hannah said.
Hannah got involved with raising money for St. Baldrick’s Foundation by following the lead of her soccer coach at Farmington Sports Arena, Jonathan Cohn.
Cohn, also a Farmington resident and the Manchester High girls soccer coach, began supporting St. Baldrick’s five years ago when he formed the team Coaches Against Cancer.
“I heard about it and thought how fortunate I was to coach so many healthy children and to have healthy children of my own,” Cohn said.
So he started the team. Since then, Coaches Against Cancer has raised about $75,000 — $25,000 of it this year.
This year’s team of nine also included Farmington High School teacher and boys lacrosse coach Jamahl Hines and Cohn’s son, Ben.
Though raising money for St. Baldrick’s – every dollar of which goes to cancer research, Cohn said proudly – is the most important thing, the coach said raising awareness is also key to the cause and a side effect of shaving one’s head.
“As you walk around you’re a billboard for the cause,” Cohn said, reflecting on some of his young players’ reactions to his baldness. “I’m finding kids now are able to talk to me about it. Kids say ‘my neighbor, my friend has cancer.’”
It was indeed, a friend who brought the concept of childhood cancer home for Hannah, who had decided to join the fundraising team last year.
“I know one girl - she just got diagnosed with cancer this year. She was one of my best friends in third grade and when I found out she had cancer I felt really bad,” Hannah said. “She was a really good swimmer and I really want her to go to the Olympics.”
Apart from raising funds to fight cancer, Hannah has dreams – for herself, her friend who has cancer and every other parent and child who face the disease.
“One thing I want to do when I grow up, I want to be an oncologist and help with kids cancer.”
“I just want to find a cure for cancer and I just want people to be less worried when they hear ‘your child has cancer’ — like when you hear your child has a cold, you know there’s a cure for it. Then it would much happier,” Hannah said.
Cohn also hopes there will someday be a cure but for now, he’s just proud of his player.
“She’s a brave kid. She was determined and she never wavered. As the time got closer, I asked if she was sure and she said ‘yup, I’m all in.’”