Play for Pink Senior Lilly Bolen's Mark on Tufts Athletics Extends Far Beyond the Basketball Court

Women’s basketball senior Lilly Bolen applied to join the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) her sophomore year as a representative for the women’s basketball team. She didn’t know exactly what to expect but she went for it. She could have never predicted she would have started a yearly fundraising effort for breast cancer awareness to honor her late mother, in addition to going on to become the organization’s elected president.

SAAC began back in 1989 when it was adopted at the NCAA Convention and formed to allow student-athlete input on NCAA activities and proposed legislation. The first was a group from all membership Divisions, and in 1997 SAAC expanded to have different groups for all three Divisions. Schools have their own SAAC groups and there are division wide SAAC groups that are comprised of both male and female student-athletes that assist in the review of NCAA proposed legislation and represent the voice of the student-athlete.

At Tufts, each varsity team has two members that serve as SAAC representatives and the committee serves as a voice for student-athletes within the Tufts community and beyond. Bolen began serving as a SAAC representative her sophomore year and was elected president heading into the 2020-21 academic year. Bolen had no idea where her SAAC experience was going to take her back when she joined, but she is grateful for the path it’s created here at Tufts.

“It’s been incredibly fulfilling,” Bolen said. “It’s funny because when I first entered the role [with SAAC], I was interested in it, but I didn’t really know what they did and didn’t know what my place would be. I just thought it would be a cool thing. But, it has really shaped my athletic experience and been a really rewarding experience.”

Bolen has also used her involvement with the organization to start a yearly fundraiser that has only grown and grown during her time at Tufts. Back during her sophomore year, Bolen joined SAAC in September. She knew Breast Cancer Awareness Month was coming up and she didn’t think there was anything in place in the Tufts Athletics Community for breast cancer awareness month, so she brought up the idea of starting a Play for Pink Game with the SAAC Executive Board. She thought it would be a good opportunity to start something at Tufts, and it turns out it was.

This is the third year of the Play for Pink event which is a month-long fundraiser. There is an online platform for donations, and in most years there is also a charity day where money is raised at athletic events. SAAC usually tries to plan the event around Parents Weekend, and teams wear pink, t-shirts are sold, etc. The first year SAAC raised $4,200 through donations and t-shirt sales. Then last year things really took off and they were able to raise $23,500. They set their goal at $25,000 this year, and they are hopeful they can reach that.

“Lilly’s continued involvement with Play for Pink over her time at Tufts has inspired many,” head women’s basketball coach Jill Pace said. “Over the past two years, I watched Lilly work tirelessly to help raise money for a cause she holds close to her heart. Starting the Play for Pink fundraiser, and increasing the total more than five times over a two-year span is incredible, and a testament to Lilly’s passion and resolve.”

But, where the money goes is even more important. All the funds raised go to a non-profit called Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC). LBBC is a national nonprofit organization that supports those diagnosed with breast cancer through diagnosis, treatment and post treatment. They aim to provide trusted information along with a community of support through on-demand emotional, practical and evidence-based content. For almost 30 years the organization has provided support through conferences, events, a peer-to-peer helpline and more.

“Their nonprofit is a little bit different in that they are more focused on the patient and the community and offering assistance and support for those going through the fight and after treatment,” Bolen said.

And she would know. Bolen’s mother lost a six-year fight with breast cancer right after Bolen graduated high school. She was a board member of LBBC and was very involved with the LBBC community. Bolen was able to attend events with her mother when she was in high school, and a close family friend took over her mother’s position on the board when she passed away. Bolen has kept the connection with LBBC since her mother’s passing, and Play for Pink was a perfect way to honor her mother and help raise money for an organization that was so important to her family while rallying the Tufts Athletics community together.

“It’s given me something to look forward to and really be passionate about,” Bolen said. “Especially Play for Pink, but also every initiative that we have done too. It has also given me a community of people that want to do good work. Once I dedicated myself to SAAC and realized I could make a real difference, it became an amazing community for me.”

One of the neatest things about Bolen is that it’s not the only community she is involved in at Tufts. A member of the women’s basketball team that has played to an 82-9 record during her three years wearing Brown and Blue, Bolen has been a part of one NESCAC Championship team and a Jumbo squad that has made two NCAA Elite Eight appearances prior to last year’s season that was cut short. The Jumbos finished last year with a 28-1 record and were ready to play in the NCAA Sweet 16 when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

In addition to her involvement with the basketball team, Bolen is also a part of the club water polo team at Tufts along with two of her basketball teammates. Additionally, Bolen has battled many injuries during her time in Medford and has been active in a group started by former Jumbo teammate Lilly Paro called Jumbos In Need. Originally started as an injury support group for athletes that had torn their ACL’s, the group has morphed into a support group for any athletes dealing with any hard injury with a long recovery.

“Relying on your teammates and having them for support is great, but then also being a part of something greater than just basketball or my team specifically has been really great in helping me stay motivated and have a purpose when you are having a hard time or injured in your specific sport,” Bolen said. “So that has been really nice.”

Bolen is dealing with the question that most seniors are dealing with now. What’s next? And she doesn’t totally know. This past summer she completed an internship as an Advertising and Promotion Regulatory Intern at Takeda Pharmaceuticals. She worked on the team within the medical business unit that reviewed advertising and promotional materials to make sure they are compliant with FDA regulations and guidance. She was supposed to be working in their Lexington office, but because of COVID completed the internship completely online. She created different presentations and worked on team documents and websites that were used for sharing guidance. The internship ended at the end of August, but her work with the company didn’t stop there. She was offered a position to continue with them this fall and has been working part-time this fall with the Advertising and Promotion Regulatory Group.

“It’s been great,” Bolen said. “I have found it really interesting and an aspect of the healthcare biotech pharma industry that people don’t really think of, at least I didn’t really think of. But it’s been a really great learning process and I have really enjoyed it.”

Bolen doesn’t know what’s next. A political science and environmental science double major, she is interested in marketing and advertising, and would love to continue working in those fields or in public relations. Her dream would be to work in sports marketing, but she would also love to work within a healthcare company as a liaison between patient and company. Her job future is up in the air, so at the moment she is just trying to take it day by day and see what happens.

While she does that, she will enjoy her time with her team. While the basketball season was cancelled earlier this month, the Jumbos are still practicing. In addition to welcoming new players to the team, the Jumbos have enjoyed being together and getting to play the sport they love.

“For the seniors it’s about passing along the culture of the team and being supportive of the younger players because all of us are still playing and practicing despite not having any games or being able to play next year,” Bolen said. “Everyone else just seems to be more motivated than ever to come back and kick butt.”

While Bolen might not have the chance to be a part of that future team that comes back and kicks butt, she will have absolutely left her mark on not only just the women’s basketball program, but also SAAC and the Tufts Athletics community as a whole.

You can learn more about SAAC’s initiative and help with the Play for Pink fundraiser by visiting the GoFundMe Charity page by clicking on the button below: