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Gymnasts battle breast and ovarian cancer at 16th annual Pink Invitational in Philadelphia

Gymnasts battle breast and ovarian cancer at 16th annual Pink Invitational
Gymnasts battle breast and ovarian cancer at 16th annual Pink Invitational 02:10

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- This weekend, thousands of young gymnasts are gathering at the Pennsylvania Convention Center to compete in the 16th annual Pink Invitational. The gymnastics event is the largest annual fundraiser for the nonprofit Unite for HER, which supports breast and ovarian cancer patients by providing money to fund therapeutic services that aren't always covered by health insurance, such as counseling, medical massage therapy, and sexual health therapy.

This year, around 92 teams are competing in the three-day event, starting Friday, Feb. 23. Before attending, each team raises money for the nonprofit. 

Maeve Kessler, 11, raised more than $5,000 ahead of the event, with the help of her brother, Jonah. The two lost their aunt, Rachel Kessler, to breast cancer in March of last year.

"This meet is really special because I get to help raise money for all the women in need," Kessler said. "I get to do this in honor of my late aunt who passed away last year of breast cancer, and I get to help others."

Kessler family

On Friday, while competing in bars, Kessler donned a pink leotard – the same one worn by all 4,000 girls competing in the weekend's events.

"You can't really tell like which team people are from," Kessler said. "It's kind of confusing, but it's kind of cool because we're all one."

Maeve Kessler gears up ahead of her performance on Friday. Eva Andersen

All girls united for one cause is the goal of the nonprofit's founder, Sue Weldon. Weldon is a cancer survivor of 20 years and received her diagnosis during a time when she was a gymnastics coach. She wanted to create an event that could both educate girls about the disease and provide them a platform to help others.

"I just wanted to really have an event where girls could not only raise funds but compete and wear pink and get dressed up…[and] they could also learn and get educated," Weldon said. "Because as a coach, we're always mentoring our girls."

One of the ways girls can learn at the event is by visiting the vendor floor and booths, such as one run by TOUCH, the Black Breast Cancer Alliance. They educate women about early detection and breast health in an age-appropriate way.

"We have a lot of tools to help them sit down with both grandmothers and go through their family histories to help them understand what they're up against," said Ricki Fairley, CEO.

Between the athletes' individual fundraising, admissions fees, donors, and sponsors, Weldon said the event is expected to raise around $700,000, which goes directly to patients they serve.

The event runs through Sunday, February 25.

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