Not even a global pandemic can stop the Luke TATSU Johnson Foundation from raising money for childhood cancer research.
The fourth annual golf tournament, dinner and auction was supposed to take place this month as part of National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, but obviously the COVID-19 shutdowns led to the cancellation of the event. However, that hasn’t stopped founders Todd and Rena Johnson from creating new fundraisers.
“We made this choice in the best interest of our beloved community to prioritize everyone’s health and safety,” Todd Johnson said of canceling the event. “A majority of our fundraising is a result of our live auction, which has been made possible by the generosity of many local businesses. Understanding the economic impact of the pandemic, we felt this was not the year to ask for their support.”
The foundation is named for Luke Tatsu Johnson, who was a Wilson High School golfer. He lost his life to complications from leukemia (AML) in 2016. He was 16 years old.
Team TATSU was founded a year later and has raised $145,000 for pediatric cancer research in three years. It’s also awarded more than $20,000 in college scholarships to Wilson golfers.
This month, the foundation is organizing two fundraisers that donors can participate in safely on their own time. Links 4 Luke and Move 4 Luke are virtual events that are part of their Luke-toberfest campaign.
“We are confident this community will come together by participating in our virtual events so that we can continue our fight against childhood cancer, because kids are being diagnosed with cancer every day,” Johnson said.
Links 4 Luke is for golfers who can sign up and play a round of golf anywhere on the weekend of Oct. 16-18. Each participant will be sent a Team TATSU swag bag that includes a branded bucket hat.
Move 4 Luke is for runners, bikers and swimmers who can donate and receive a TATSU face mask and participation medal. The explanation on the website says, “You can MOVE 4 LUKE anywhere that you choose, at your own pace, in your own time and whatever way you choose to move. Walk, run, bike, paddle, swim, dance, skateboard or surf for 3.62 miles — the length of Skylinks, one of Luke’s favorite Long Beach golf courses.”
The most recent $75,000 donation to cancer research went to three separate grants in La Jolla, San Fransisco and Philadelphia. Dr. Carolyn Felix at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is assessing the use of a drug called ribavirin as a new treatment for children at high risk for the same type of leukemia that Luke battled. At The Regents of the University of California, San Francisco, Dr. Michelle Hermiston is developing a test for children with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) that can identify whether he or she has the T-cell subtype that makes them less likely to respond to common treatments.
“Big charities don’t need us,” Rena Johnson said. “The small, niche organizations who are doing the intense work — that’s where we feel good about making a difference.”
Luke’s middle name Tatsu is the sign of the dragon. The Wilson golf, football and baseball teams all had “TATSU” patches on their helmets or in their golf bags the year after he passed away.
“He was never the kid who needed center stage,” Rena said of Luke. “He was easy going, likable, bright and funny. He picked friends who were funny too. They were a silly pack, but he was never the loud one. He was the quiet egger-on.”
Luke Johnson’s spirit was felt strongly in 2018 when the foundation gave $10,000 worth of scholarships to Wilson golfers who he would’ve graduated alongside.
“The scholarship monetarily means a lot to me, no matter how much it is, but to just have the scholarship with Luke’s name means so much more,” Johnson’s teammate and scholarship recipient Tyler Allen said.
“(The Johnsons are) really making sure everyone has a chance to remember who Luke was, because he was a really special kid, and he shouldn’t be forgotten,” Allen added. “He was just the most amazing person you could ever meet.”