Celebrating the Gift of Mother’s Day
atGeist 2013 Mom of the Year Vicki Andritsch at Bella Vita Lakeside.
This year, 41 magnificent moms were nominated for the 2013 Geist Mom of the Year contest. From this pool, five finalists were chosen and featured online where viewers could vote for their favorite mom via www.atGeist.com. Though all the contestants were worthy of winning, only one mom pulled ahead at the last moment to win this very close race—Vicky Andritsch.
Vicky was nominated twice, once by Dean and Amy Hershman and also by her husband, Todd Andritsch. Together, Todd and Vicky have five children ranging from kindergarten to college age. Their eldest, Jack (18), is studying at Clemson University. Grace (15) is a freshman at HSE High School. Audrey (12) is a sixth grader at FCI. Luke (9) is in third grade at Geist Elementary. Finally, Ava (who just turned 7) is a kindergartner at Geist Elementary. These five siblings are known for having an unusually close relationship with each other. But then again, they do have a special mother who wraps her strength, wisdom, and love into every facet of this familial unit.
“Everyone has a story to tell,” says Vicky as she smiles proudly sporting her athletic apparel (she was up at dawn training for her next triathlon). “I’m just so grateful to have this chance to tell mine.” During our interview, I learned what makes her so remarkable.
Mother’s Day Gone Awry, Two Years in a Row
atGeist 2013 Mom of the Year Vicki Andritsch. Spa Day. Symbolic rock given to Vicki by a dear friend when they found out Eva (sp) was sick. She carries it with her in her front pocket every day.
When Ava, her youngest child, was just four weeks old, she was diagnosed with a level three brain hemorrhage near the core of her brain. On Mother’s Day weekend, Ava underwent surgery to have a shunt inserted which would help drain spinal fluid from the brain to the belly. The doctors warned that she may never be able to walk or talk and that they would have to wait to see the effects of her condition. Vicky explains, “Ava is our test drive on how to handle stress. She’s truly a gift of God and has overcome so many obstacles. She managed to cross every milestone with flying colors.”
One year later, during church service on Mother’s Day, Vicky was holding Ava (now 1 year old) in her arms reminiscing back on her first year with her, watching her defy all odds by sitting up, crawling, talking, and walking. She adds, “The emotions were overwhelming thinking back on what the past year had held and all that we learned about life.” She felt so thankful for her baby’s health and developments. Yet, she felt a wrenching feeling in her stomach for her son, Luke, (3 years) who didn’t attend church that day. He stayed at home with his dad. Luke had been complaining of intense ear pain the day before and was diagnosed with a double ear infection.
Two days later, life would change its course forever for this close-knit family. They learned that Luke had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) and that their little boy would have to undergo chemotherapy every day for the next three and one-half years. She recalls, “Luke’s days of digging in the dirt and skinning his knees came to a roaring halt.”
“Our family has been strong from the beginning,” says Vicky. “I can see how families fall apart with this kind of stress. When one member is diagnosed with cancer, it becomes a journey the entire family embarks on.” She recalls embracing her family during this time of crisis, “Guys, we have felt this devastation before with Ava. We made it through, and look at her now. Luke needs us. He can’t do it alone. We have to do this together.”
Flashbacks of Comforting Love
Although Luke was in remission after only five days of intense treatment, he endured the next three years of his life battling the effects of his chemotherapy. He will surely always remember how his family members were there for him when he needed their strength. Vicky proudly describes flashbacks of how Luke’s siblings rose to the occasion. Like the time when it was the last day of Christmas break, she came into the kitchen to get ready to take Luke to Riley for his 6:30 a.m. spinal tap. And there was Jack, all dressed and ready to accompany his little brother without ever being asked to go. Jack chose to go and be with his brother as opposed to sleeping in on his last sacred day of break. Or, the times when Grace would sacrifice playing with her friends to go to the clinic with Luke. Then there was the moment when she put Luke on her back and carried him across the finish line at the Geist Half Marathon & 5K which was the first year this family was able to participate in this event. (www.GeistHalf.com) Then, there were the times when Audrey would wear a mask into the hospital so that Luke would feel more comfortable. She would always play “doctor” with him to prepare him for his next visit. Finally, there was Ava, who literally spent the first three years of her life accompanying Luke to Riley.
“Ava was our sunshine who brought laughter and joy into our world. She was the bright spot in our day. Fortunately, because she was so young, she didn’t understand everything that was going on,” says Vicky. There was a period when Luke had been so sick that he hadn’t raised his head off the pillow for two weeks. Then one day, he finally lifted his head and asked to watch Veggie Tales. Ava was so thrilled to see her older brother show interest in something that she began doing her happy dance, wiggling on the bed. Suddenly, she fell off in slow motion Vicky recalls. “I was praying she wouldn’t hit her head because of her shunt, as I saw her twirling in the air.” Her head was fine but she broke her leg and had to wear a hip-to-toe cast for months. Luke drew pictures for her and was so excited to be in a caretaker position for someone else for once.
“There were countless times during treatment I wondered how much more could come our way. And then I would feel a sense of calm and peace. These were the moments when I knew God had this all under control and we just needed to keep pushing forward, with faith,” Vicky says, with a smile.
Turning the Curve to Make a Difference
Vicky gets the cover girl treatment at Reeda Todd Salon at Geist, complete with a haircut, foot wash, and makeup by Sarah Burke (shown here).
At the conclusion of Luke’s first year of grueling treatment, Vicky and Todd felt so thankful to have their son. They wanted to celebrate, yet make a difference at the same time. As a result, Vicky founded Team Luke Corp, a 501c 3 organization that participates in endurance events such as the Geist Half Marathon and 5K. Team Luke raises money to support blood cancer research as well as Riley Hospital. (www.teamluke.webs.com)
“Cancer is a hard circle to run in,” states Vicky. “It immediately becomes part of your life and affects every waking, breathing moment. We are so fortunate to have a healthy son in the outcome. Not everyone is that lucky. We have had to say goodbye to too many friends.” Though Team Luke addresses the long-term goal of finding a cure for blood cancers, Vicky has created an immediate goal for dealing with cancer now, that is, for families who need coping mechanisms at this moment. She and her family members distribute Rhythm Pax (which in Latin, translates to “healing”) which are musical/percussion instrument packages to Riley patients, allowing them to take their minds off of their sickness and focus on healing and fun. Rhythm Pax was created as a result of Luke’s own experience of discovering happiness through playing an instrument.
When Vicky introduced Luke to bongo drum lessons during his treatment, she and Todd couldn’t believe how “at peace” Luke felt at the end of each lesson. Vicky recalls a time when Luke once said to her, “Mom, you know how lucky I was that I got cancer out in five days? I know others aren’t that lucky, and I want them to feel the way I do when I play music.” The goal for Team Luke is that every child diagnosed with cancer will receive a Rhythm Pax. Vicky is currently in the beginning stages of writing a book with her family which will eventually be included in the Rhythm Pax. Their dream has always been to share their experiences in hopes of helping others. With ongoing fund raising and awareness, they hope to make this dream a reality.
In addition, Vicky is a board member for Vines for Life, an annual wine-tasting event benefiting three charities. This is another avenue that focuses to raise money for Team Luke. Yet, her energy doesn’t stop here. She is a participant of the Indiana chapter of Team In Training, an organization that trains people to participate in marathons, half marathons, and triathlons to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS.) She also supports Pennies for Patients (with the help of her kids), speaks at engagements at Riley and LLS, and organizes blood drives at New Hope Church.
The Motivation behind Her Stamina
“We feel passionate about helping LLS and Riley because of the way they took care of us in our darkest days,” says Vicky, who has raised over $70,000 for Team In Training so far. She has run in races across the country from Disney in Orlando to San Francisco. She admits, “Running became my therapy to get through the tough times. On a good day, I am able to get my workouts done early in the morning before anyone wakes up and see some amazing sunrises while I’m at it. During Luke’s treatment, these sunrises were always reassurance to me that we were not alone in this battle.”
“When I am at that tough point in a race and I start thinking, ‘What am I doing?’ I am always quick to think about all that Luke, our family and others have gone through when dealing with cancer,” says Vicky who began training one year into Luke’s treatment. She has since co-founded Triple Threat Indiana, a group that organizes endurance training for triathletes supporting LLS.
“The best part of any race is the finish line when I get to see my family. I get to see those smiling faces cheering me through. The proudest of all is my husband, Todd. He is my rock.”
Even though Vicky has had some unfortunate Mother’s Days in the past, she still is proud to celebrate this special day with her family. She says, “I’ve had lots of people say to me, ‘Don’t you dread Mother’s Day?’ but actually, I love this day. I look at all the blessings that have come to us through our trials. It will be a gift for Todd and me to watch our kids grow up. They have taught me so much about being a mom. I believe these kids were meant to be mine, and I am lucky to be their mom.”
As we conclude our interview, I say goodbye to this strong woman who exudes an unusual energy about her as she speaks. Her bubbly, upbeat personality represents a most positive inspiration to all who are lucky enough to get to know her. What I admire most about her is that she never once talked about herself but rather her family and her goals for wanting to help ease the pain for others.
Nominated by her husband Todd
Vicky is a mother of five children ranging from 18 to 6 years old. Other activities include being the Founder/ President of Team Luke Corp, a Board member of Vines for Life, founder of Triple Threat Indiana, member of New Hope Church in Fishers, Team In Training participant, and a committed runner/triathlete. She is a caring, loving mother and wife first and foremost who sets an example for her family and friends. Her kids are proud to call her Mom, and I am proud to call her my wife.
Also nominated by Dean and Amy Hershman
Vicky’s lovely. Her grace is modeled in how she interacts with her family and how they show love and compassion to each other. She knows the heart of a mother whose child suffered and chooses to seek good in each experience. Vicky’s family formed Team Luke to bring hope to families fighting terminal illnesses. Whether delivering Rhythm Paks to Riley, counting pennies for patients at Geist Elementary, or volunteering in the community, she puts the needs of others before herself. I can’t summarize in 100 words other than to say she is a gift to all who know her.