Nothing can dampen the spirits on the rodeo trail like finding out that one of your closest friends—a 32-year-old wife, breakaway roper and mother to an energetic toddler— got knocked back by a stage IV metastatic breast cancer diagnosis.
That was the call that Beth Papotnik received in fall of 2021 about her friend. Papotnik felt devastated, powerless and unsure of what the future held. How could she get in the truck with her own horses, 7-year-old son Brody, and husband to go compete while her friend was across town fighting for her life?
“She had a very grim diagnosis,” Beth explained. “But it’s improved drastically, thank God. Watching my friend go through this and keep a positive attitude through that diagnosis—I don’t know if I could have handled it like that.”
Not only were doctors’ visits adding up, but time off work for treatments, stress on her friend’s husband and child, the cost of treatments, vitamins and more—it was hitting the family hard. Papotnik decided if she couldn’t control the cancer, she could jump in to help with the financial burden. But she needed some help. She and a few friends— some of whom who would later take seats on the Breakaway From Cancer board—jumped in to help with the organization of a benefit barrel race and breakaway roping at Treharne Training Center in Negley, Ohio. The entire crew and the local rodeo community all pitched in to pull the event off, and Papotnik was inspired by the outcome.
“It was cold and snowing, and we still had a great turnout,” Papotnik said. “The people really rallied around the cause and showed up despite the weather. Seeing the community come together has been amazing. You constantly hear the negative—that society doesn’t care, that they aren’t giving— but I’ve seen the other side.”
Read: Breakaway Ropers are the Heroes Rodeo Needs
Lessons learned from that event led Papotnik, Brian Ralicki, Amy and John Lucsko to begin researching ways to evolve the concept into a full-blown organization. That is how the four friends decided to start Breakaway From Cancer, a 501C3 nonprofit dedicated to helping horse-loving families who are buckling under the financial burden of cancer. Each year, applications can be submitted to the nonprofit. The charity’s board is made up of both local and nationally acclaimed equine industry advocates who want to help. Each year, they will select one family who will be the recipients of their fundraising fruits for the year.
Papotnik isn’t a philanthropy expert—she’s a middle school science teacher with a big heart. She got her start in the Western Pennsylvania Youth Rodeo Association at a young age and has since become one of the most prominent all-around names in the northeast. She has helped many youth and adult women get involved in the sport of breakaway roping and has served as a voice of leadership as the northeastern region as breakaway blooms there. Recently, Papotnik joined the team at BreakawayRoping.com as an ambassador. She hopes to utilize the site to reach her goals in the arena and continue to share the sport of breakaway with other northeastern ropers and aspiring competitors.
Amy Lucsko knows how to handle the financial needs of Breakaway From Cancer needs. She is an accountant with 20 years of experience and worked as the secretary for the WPYRA for 10 years. She helped to establish that organization as a 501C3, so she was a perfect fit as secretary at Breakaway From Cancer. Along with husband John, they raised Jocelyn Phillips, a successful breakaway and barrel racing competitor in Pennsylvania and surrounding states.
Breakaway From Cancer President John Lucsko says his greatest accomplishments are being a husband of 36 years, a father of two, and now a grandfather. He’s humble about the fact that he not only coached daughter Jocelyn to success in the arena, but held treasury positions with the WPYRA and Pennsylvania High School Rodeo Association for a combined 12 years, along with maintaining a successful career in banking.
Brian Ralicki is a long-time Pennsylvania cowboy who has raised four children who had success in the rodeo and cattle showing worlds. Now, Ralicki serves as the Vice President of Breakaway from Cancer when he isn’t running his business, Champion Construction, or tending to his own quarter horses and cattle.
BRJ editor Chelsea Shaffer decided to join Papotnik in her efforts because she believed in the cowgirl as much as the cause.
“When I was growing up in Pennsylvania, Beth was the ultimate cowgirl that I looked up to,” Shaffer said. “We all wanted to be like her. She’s one of the sweetest, most genuine people I’ve ever met and she’s a great competitor who cares about the sport and the people in it. When I was approached to join the Breakaway From Cancer board, I accepted because I believe that her intentions are in the right place and she’s willing to work her butt off—without thanks—to help these families in any way.”
The four behind the organization haven’t walked this journey alone—local rodeo families and competitors have rallied behind the cause and begun sporting their patches, bracelets, breakaway flags and t-shirts to show their support.
At the end of the day, it’s all about the mission for the Breakaway From Cancer crew.
“We are here to ease the financial strain placed on families in the equine community battling cancer,” Papotnik said. “We just want people to know about it—that we’re here. With a nonprofit, you have to have people who believe in you. There’s so many bad apples out there and we know that, but we are just here to help.”
If you want to learn more about Breakaway From Cancer and check out their inventory of breakaway flags and other swag, check out their site here. You can also follow them on Facebook and Instagram @BreakawayFromCancer .