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Jeff Nygaard shines some attention on skin-cancer awareness

Jeff Nygard AVP Comeback from skin-cancer

Jeff Nygard AVP Comeback from skin-cancer


Jeff Nygaard has made a comeback on the AVP tour after undergoing treatment for skin cancer. He’s the only top competitor wearing a long-sleeved shirt during competition.
The former UCLA volleyball star and Olympian favors long sleeves over the AVP Crocs Tour’s usual near-nakedness. He’s outspoken after being treated for basal cell carcinoma and melanoma.
By Pete Thomas | Los Angeles Times
May 22, 2009

Despite an impressive career and a recent resurgence on the pro beach volleyball circuit, Jeff Nygaard will never become a poster child for the AVP Crocs Tour.For one thing, the tour has its marquee male players in Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers, who are Olympic gold medalists and, on most days, unbeatable.

For another, Nygaard does not like the sun.  The former UCLA star stands out not because he’s 6 feet 8 and imposing at the net but because he wears a long-sleeve jersey while participating in a sport whose ranks are filled with mostly unclothed athletes.In fact, the three-time Olympian and 2003 AVP most valuable player, while preparing for today’s main-draw start of the Huntington Beach Open, conceded that late in the 2007 season part of him wanted to lose because advancing through heats meant spending more time under the blazing sun.

“I found myself wanting to compete but at the same time not wanting to be there,” said Nygaard, 36, who with partner John Mayer is ranked third in the AVP standings. “I’d have a few great points and then I’d retreat into myself saying, ‘I really want to get out of the sun right now.’ ”

That was because Nygaard, midway in the 2007 season, learned he had skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma on his back and potentially deadly melanoma on his left upper biceps.

Both were treated early, and Nygaard is now an outspoken proponent of skin-cancer awareness. He’s a board member for the Sun Safety Alliance and plays volleyball in a shirt made of fabric that offers SPF 50 protection.

He said he’s not the only AVP player to have developed skin cancer but would not name others. An AVP spokesman said medical information regarding athletes is confidential.

It’s important to note, though, that skin cancer typically develops after prolonged sun exposure, and Nygaard’s probably would have developed even if he’d never played beach volleyball.

“What I’m doing to myself now, if I’m doing anything harmful to myself now, is not going to show up until I’m 50, 60 or 70 years old,” he said.

Nygaard is the only main-draw player to routinely wear long-sleeve shirts during competition and says there’s only “a trickle of interest” among other players in wearing them.

(That voluminous sigh of relief is from AVP officials cringing at the thought of a tour minus its near-nakedness and sex appeal.)

But players are increasingly aware of consequences. Suzanne Stonebarger, an AVP veteran who produces skin-care products, said: “If I was comfortable playing in a shirt, I would definitely consider it, but they’re restrictive.”

Nicole Branagh, part of this year’s top-ranked women’s team with Elaine Youngs, said she feels uncomfortable even wearing a visor but is trying to get used to one in practice.

Mayer, who is dating a dermatologist, said, “Whenever we can avoid the sun, we do.”

Paola Rodriguez, his girlfriend, said players “all know they’re supposed to apply and reapply as much as possible.”

Apply and reapply is the sunscreen mantra. Most players now practice in cooler mornings or late afternoons. More of them are visiting dermatologists.

As for Nygaard, who was ranked 22nd and 24th after the two previous seasons, he no longer wants to lose. He has full shoulder movement for the first time since undergoing surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in late 2007.

He has found in Mayer — with whom he teamed midway through last season — an excellent setter with adept ball-control skills and an amiable demeanor.

The pair opened the season with a fifth-place finish in Panama City, Fla.

At the next tournament in Riverside, they finished third but were able to upset Dalhausser and Rogers, sending the Dynamic Duo (eventual event winners) to the contenders’ bracket.

After that, Nygaard and Mayer won in San Diego, defeating Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal in the final, 21-18, 21-17. It was the first AVP triumph for Mayer, who said, “It made me feel like I was doing this for a reason.”

They finished fifth last week in Houston. It was disappointing, but they held their No. 3 seeding and look forward to spending Memorial Day weekend in Huntington Beach — sunshine or no sunshine.

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