September 18, 2017
By Mike Killeen
If you do an online search for Austin Hingtgen, you’ll find a video of an intense hockey fight he was involved in while playing hockey for the Neepawa Natives of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
These days, the Saint John’s University sophomore from Williston, North Dakota, is trying to knock out a different opponent.
Hingtgen is organizing an event from 5-8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20, at Sal’s Bar and Grill in St. Joseph that will benefit childhood cancer. He’s working with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a volunteer-powered charity committed to funding the most promising research to find cures for childhood cancers.
The name "St. Baldrick's" is a combination of the words "bald" and "St. Patrick's," since the first event was held on St. Patrick’s Day March 17, 2000, in New York City. At the fundraisers, the organization’s signature head-shaving events are held.
Since 2005, St. Baldrick's has awarded more than $203 million to support lifesaving research, making the St. Baldrick's Foundation the largest private funder of childhood cancer research grants.
“I think everyone in one way or another has been impacted by cancer,” Hingtgen said. “That’s why it’s such a huge thing nowadays, to have fundraisers and those kinds of things.”
But make no mistake, this is a personal battle for Hingtgen.
“My grandpa (Gilbert Hingtgen of Dubuque, Iowa) was taken by lung cancer when I was probably eight years old, and since then a childhood friend of mine was diagnosed with leukemia about a year ago,” Hingtgen said.
“She’s in the middle of treatment, and it has been super-hard on her. Just watching her go through it has been tough. You never want to see that happen, but you know it happens to so many people.”
He found out about the St. Baldrick’s Foundation through a friend, who had participated in one of its events in Boston.
“At the time, I was looking for an event to put on, because of the impact cancer has. In particular, I’m interested in this because I’m in school to be a doctor,” Hingtgen said. “I want to help people. It’s something I’m very interested in.”
The event at Sal’s includes a social, dinner, drinks and a program featuring several families who have had to deal with childhood cancer. Tickets will be priced at $10, he said.
Following the program, persons can have their head shaved or cut to show solidarity with cancer patients and to raise money. Those who are interested in having their hair shaved or cut can register with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. They can then solicit funds from family and friends for donations, with that money also going back to the Foundation.
Assisting Hingtgen with the organization of the event are College of Saint Benedict students Alli Grodnick, Cecilia Lovinger and Taylor Billion.
Hingtgen is a biochemistry major, with a long-range goal of becoming a pediatric physician. He’d possibly be interested in conducting research.
While Hingtgen first was attracted to SJU to play hockey, he also appreciated the academic rigors of the school. He spent his summer conducting research on a protein that determines corneal thickness in eyes. Corneal thickness has a relation to susceptibility to develop glaucoma, he said.
“The excellence of the school really drew me in,” Hingtgen said. “I wouldn’t have come here if it wasn’t such a good school.”