Take one look at Craig Pollard in a pair of pants and you would never know the whole story. Follow him to the golf course and the rest comes into focus.
Pollard is a double amputee as evidenced by the prosthetics that protrude from his shorts as he takes a silky swipe at the ball from the left side. Both feet were taken above the ankle more than five years ago. A nasty infection invaded his body aided by a weakened immune system, a left over parting gift from two earlier bouts with cancer. Lifesaving treatments caused his extremities to swell beyond recognition, cutting off circulation. When presented with the choice of multiple agonizing surgeries and years of rehabilitation or the loss of his feet and the ability to walk again with prosthetics in six months, the decision was made quickly and with the precision of a surgeon’s knife.
“I wanted to live life on my terms,” said Pollard. He has faced his own mortality more than anyone should.
“I was 19, and I should have been at the top of the world when my cancer returned. I was playing baseball at USC and attending a great school. My whole life was ahead of me, but there I was lying in my hospital bed fighting this disease for a second time. At that point I made a deal with God,” said Pollard. “I told God if He got me out of this, I would make a difference.” Pollard set out to do just that.
“I was a camp counselor at Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times, a place for very sick children and their families. I saw the look of hope on the kids faces when they found out I was a two-time cancer survivor and I was going to college. It was like that dream of going to college was a light at the end of a very dark tunnel. I talked to the parents and found the disease had wiped many of them out financially. It set my mind in motion, and I knew I could help.”
Pollard founded a charity called Cancer for College. His goal is to provide hope to cancer survivors by providing college scholarships. At his inaugural event in 1993, he raised $500 and granted one scholarship. Since then, he’s enlisted anyone who will help his mission including one very good friend and USC fraternity brother, actor/comedian Will Ferrell.
“We joke that I sent a check to the very first event for like $50. We’ve stepped it up a little since then,” said Ferrell. “It’s just such a wholesome and positive charity. I mean, if you can’t get behind sending cancer survivors to college, what are you for?”
Since its inception, Cancer for College has granted more than $1.75 million to cancer survivors around the country, but it’s not enough.
“When we first started, we wanted to give something to everyone who applied,” said Pollard. “We quickly realized that there are a lot of cancer survivors out there. The kids are so amazing. They have overcome incredible odds and terrible circumstances. They want to give back to the community that helped save their life by becoming doctors and nurses.”
The charity’s 19th annual Will Powered Golf Classic is Friday, August 31 at the Coronado Golf Course on Coronado Island (visit cancerforcollege.org). The tournament is hosted by Ferrell and sells out every year. It’s one of several that Ferrell hosts in support of the cause.
“I get to do a lot of really cool things in my line of work,” said Ferrell. “Making movies, attending events like the Academy Awards. It’s all very fun, but the nights we look forward to most are these events where we get to meet the kids and the families that are being helped by this charity. Their passion for life is so great and their appreciation for the support that the charity provides is so genuine. I know a lot of people come out to see my golf ability on display and how I make the game look so easy, but the reality is we are all out there in support of Craig and his desire to help these kids who have been through so much.”