A New Era for Early Recognition Is Critical (E.R.I.C.)

by | December 7, 2023, 6:45am 0

It is with both sentiment and great enthusiasm that we announce the nonprofit organization, Early Recognition Is Critical (E.R.I.C.) will be formally transitioning ownership of the organization to John (Jolas) Larracas.  Jolas is a true ambassador for E.R.I.C.’s work, with a passion that stems from both his personal experience with cancer and his desire to leverage professional skills to do more in the fight against cancer. We want to take a moment to share a little of E.R.I.C.’s history and Jolas’ vision moving forward and hope you feel inspired by what’s to come.

Founder Jim, new leader Jolas, and ambassador Beau.

E.R.I.C.’s Origin

E.R.I.C. was co-founded in 2012 by two friends, Jim Gerencser and Cassandra Palo, after cancer affected their lives simultaneously when Jim’s son, Eric and Cassandra’s mother, Mary Lea, were both diagnosed with cancer. Eric was first diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was eight years old.  He was an athletic child, who loved playing hockey but began struggling with his balance a lot, then experienced headaches and then vomiting followed suit. After endless visits to the doctor and symptoms worsening, the diagnosis was a brain tumor.  Surgery removed most of it and after a few weeks, Eric was up and running again. Two years later though, the tumor grew back, and a second surgery resulted in paralysis on Eric’s left side. With a new doctor, timely medical check-ups, physical therapy and a lot of research learning about cancer, Eric made great progress regaining 90% of his mobility and eventually got into the best shape of his life.  Looking back, Eric believed being so physically fit helped him fight his next re-occurring battle.

In April 2012, at 19 years of age, Eric was diagnosed with stage 2 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL) Burkitt’s, a destructive cancer that mainly strikes young people.  The chemotherapy treatment was very aggressive and greatly challenged his then weakened immune system.  What followed was months of spinal taps, multiple blood transfusions, constant vomiting, loss of appetite and long terrifying weeks of hospital stays.  The struggle and emotional toil seemed unending for the entire family after nearly a decade of hardships and temporary triumphs.

Thankfully, Eric’s cancer was caught early enough each time and did not spread further, and by the end of 2012 Eric’s cancer officially went into remission.  Today Eric is in his 20s, healthy and active, and living his life on his terms. Around the same time, Cassandra’s mother, Mary Lea, who had been diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma only a few months prior, had died from pneumonia caused by the cancer.  Unfortunately, her cancer was not caught early enough for treatment to be effective and the cancer spread all over, including her lungs.

As so many unfortunately know, cancer is an emotionally, physically and spiritually difficult fight that no one should endure, let alone a child.  And the families of cancer patients experience every moment of the disease second hand, feeling helpless, frustrated and scared at their own inability to get to rid of the cancer.  For Jim and Cassandra, they drew on the support of family and friends, and especially the ultimate frisbee community.

What they soon discovered is that cancer stories stressing the importance of early cancer detection for survival are surprisingly rare.  Jim and Cassandra wanted to honor Mary Lea’s and Eric’s journey by offering a platform to give others hope and tools in fighting this disease.  Recognizing the value of education and being physically fit to help fight disease, they viewed the sport of ultimate as a perfect vehicle to share information about cancer prevention, engage in physical activity and teach youth positive communication skills to speak up if something felt wrong.

It’s a David vs. Goliath situation, taking on cancer.  We focused on what we knew for sure: catching it early is the way to win.  It’s a message that you can’t hear too often. It’s a message that can save lives.

– Cassandra Palo

E.R.I.C. was eventually founded then with the intention of providing a fun teaching tool targeting youth, for early cancer detection and in turn, cancer prevention, through playing ultimate frisbee and learning about Spirit of the Game.

Over the past five years since E.R.I.C. launched, it has far exceeded its goals!  During this time, the organization has worked tirelessly to develop and pilot curriculum, tools and approaches that creatively engage young people in the U.S. and internationally.

There are very few organizations I’ve worked with in my life, where I’ve felt the amount of hard work I put in was worth it and as important as teaching children.  It’s the type of idea that deserves to continue flourishing. –

 – Beau Kittredge, E.R.I.C. Ambassador and Coach.

To date E.R.I.C has worked with over ~200,000 youth and hundreds of volunteers and coaches in the U.S. and in its partner countries including Columbia, Venezuela, Mexico, Finland, Latvia, Poland, Germany, Slovenia, Italy, Czech Republic, S. Africa, China and Australia. To boot, internationally, the energy has taken off across these countries to both maintain the message of E.R.I.C. and tailor campaigns relevant to their own communities.   E.R.I.C. has established working partnerships with local and regional-based organizations including disc associations, YMCAs, Girl Scouts of the USA, and many professional men’s ultimate teams, as well as the World Flying Disc Federation. E.R.I.C. has also received significant support through its relationships with various ultimate-related apparel companies including Boon Technical Clothing, Patagonia, 5Ultimate, DiscStore, VC Ultimate, and Savage.

We started E.R.I.C. to keep our minds busy during Eric’s treatment and to deal with the passing of Cassandra’s mom.  We didn’t have any expectations when we started except to help people recognize symptoms earlier.  I feel we did our job.

– Jim Gerencser

Looking Towards The Future

E.R.I.C.’s vision is evolving with an eye towards new opportunities and strategies that can help leverage the mission even further, which is why we’re so excited for Jolas and his plans for the organization moving forward.

It took me a couple years to be comfortable speaking casually about my cancer symptoms, and still hate it.  But the mission of Team E.R.I.C.  has always been powerful and I couldn’t be happier with the direction our organization is headed with Jolas at the helm.

– Eric Gerencser, Jim’s son, collaborator and inspiration for E.R.I.C.

E.R.I.C. has complete confidence in Jolas and his ability to drive the organization to the next stage.  His experience caring for his mom while she battled cancer, his demonstrated ability to create and mobilize relationships and friendships across the globe in the ultimate community and beyond, and his ardent passion for E.R.I.C.’s mission and message, together illustrate that he’s the right E.R.I.C. ambassador and champion for the organization moving forward.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Jim and the organization’s early supporters, volunteers and staff for all of their efforts and hard work since day one.  Behind the scenes this group has been working for years – developing, experimenting, networking, delivering Clinics with the goal of sharing its message with as many people as possible in hopes of helping others catch cancer early.  E.R.I.C. is more than just an organization – it’s a community for people from different walks of life – and we’re just getting started. I’m excited to carry the torch and continue what the early pioneers started. With the help of the community, I’m going to strive to make a big push for cancer education.  Education that will include diversity, inclusion and equity.

– Jolas Larracas, E.R.I.C.’s new leader

Transition Details

The transition will occur over the next couple of months and include rebranding the logo, updating the website, outlining additional pillars of focus, and engaging new and existing partners domestically and internationally all with the goal of creating a more organic, self-sustaining organization.  Look for future communications with details that outline the organization’s plan for 2019 and beyond.

E.R.I.C. is grateful for all the support, love and interest globally we have received over the years from coaches, volunteers, donors, ultimate organizations and sponsors, community members, families, and teachers.  Most of all thank you to the amazing youth that greeted us at each Speak Up Clinic with excitement, open-mindedness and took a pledge to share E.R.I.C.’s message with those they love, they are true Ambassadors and will continue to inspire us moving forward.

Here’s to the next chapter of the organization, E.R.I.C. 2.0!

With much gratitude,

– Team E.R.I.C.

“The E.R.I.C. Philippine Tour was more than just the all-star showcase games. The athletes flew to Manila for a deeper purpose. And that was to build relationships with kids who are battling cancer. The team went to Philippine General Hospital to spend time with pediatric cancer patients. Have you ever imagined being a kid and having the responsibility to fight a disease like cancer? These kids need us more than ever. Sometimes we have to do more than donations. Funds are vital to their journey to having their lives back to how it should be. But being able to have a relationship with them, listen to their dreams in life and support them drive their vehicle to success, that’s what E.R.I.C. is all about.”

– Jolas Larracas

For questions and comments, please contact jolaslarracas@gmail.com.

Comments Policy: At Skyd, we value all legitimate contributions to the discussion of ultimate. However, please ensure your input is respectful. Hateful, slanderous, or disrespectful comments will be deleted. For grammatical, factual, and typographic errors, instead of leaving a comment, please e-mail our editors directly at editors [at] skydmagazine.com.