Inspiration from late Heather Farr has driven Val Skinner's LIFE Event for 20 years

Val Skinner

Inspiration from late Heather Farr has driven Val Skinner's LIFE Event for 20 years

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Inspiration from late Heather Farr has driven Val Skinner's LIFE Event for 20 years

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Val Skinner has so many names and faces and causes swirling around in her head they come gushing out one after the other. So many stories of triumph. So many heroes. So many friends lost along the way.

Skinner’s passion project, the LIFE Event (LPGA pros in the fight to eradicate breast cancer), celebrates 20 years on Monday. In that time, her foundation has raised nearly $13 million and inspired generations of LPGA players to start charity initiatives of their own.

This year’s LIFE Hero, the late Heather Farr, was the inspiration behind Skinner’s efforts. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1989 at age 24, the promising young LPGA pro died from the disease in 1993.

“She was effervescent,” said Skinner. “Sherri Steinhauer said Heather didn’t walk, she bounced.”

And when she got sick, the tour pulled together like family in ways no one had ever seen.

“It could’ve been any one of us,” said Skinner. “That message was so obvious to me.”

Women’s golfer Heather Farr in action during tournament play circa 1988. (Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

It was during a conversation by Farr’s fireplace on an unusually cold night in the Arizona desert that Skinner knew she had a new mission in life. Farr wanted young people to know about the risks they faced.

“Don’t forget that Val,” she said.

A six-time winner on the LPGA, the 58-year-old Skinner now has devoted as many years to raising money to fight breast cancer as she did playing the tour.

A passionate player, Skinner finds herself continually amazed by the strength of women who are in the fight of their lives.

In 2002, the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state’s first and only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, utilized funds to create the LIFE Center, which provides awareness, education and support programs for young women with an increased risk for breast cancer.

“I watch what goes on in the LIFE Center or hear the stories of these women that we’ve honored and it just blows my mind how strong people can be,” said Skinner. “Had I had that perspective at 25 I might have won a major.”

Eighteen LPGA pros will participate in this year’s pro-am at Mountain Ridge Country Club in West Caldwell, N.J. The event is expected to raise $500,000. Brittany Lincicome has been coming to Skinner’s pro-am since she was a rookie and only the latter stages of pregnancy could keep her away this year.

Lincicome, whose grandmother battled breast cancer, said she bawls her eyes out every year at the luncheon.

“You feel like you’re a part of their lives because you do this every year,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking at times.”

Heather Farr of the United States in action during the Nabisco Dinah Shore Golf Championship, circa April 1984. (Phil Sheldon/ Popperfoto/ Getty Images)

Skinner’s efforts helped Lincicome launch her own charity event to benefit The First Tee back home in St. Petersburg, Fla. She’s one of many LPGA pros who have called Skinner for advice on giving back.

Skinner’s foundation money goes to education and research projects that reach millions across the country.

“We’re like the little red wagon,” she said, “always looking for those opportunities in precision medicine to find how our money can really turn into something explosive.”

On Monday, Arizona State coach Missy Farr-Kaye will introduce her sister via video. Heather died of breast cancer at age 28. Missy was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 30 and again at 40.

Three of Farr-Kaye’s former Sun Devils will be in the room – Anna Nordqvist, Carlota Ciganda and Giulia Molinaro. Farr-Kaye’s players are passionate about their upbeat, gritty and grateful coach in ways that are similar to how people talk about Heather.

Skinner doesn’t do all of this just because Heather Farr died of breast cancer. She was motivated to take action because of who Heather was as a person – before cancer ever came into her life, and after she fought it so gracefully.

“She’s our beacon,” Skinner said.

May she forever shine brightly.

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