When the North Carolina rowing team participated in a webinar with the Fight Like Britt Foundation, it was more than just another guest speaker. Emilie Gross, the team's interim co-head coach and a former rower at Michigan State, competed against the foundation's namesake in college.
On Sept. 26, the day of the webinar, the Tar Heels heard the story of Brittany Burns, a member of Clemson’s rowing team from 2008 to 2012 who died from ovarian cancer in 2016.
Burns was originally recruited as a swimmer, but picked up rowing at Clemson and helped propel the Tigers to an ACC championship in 2009. After graduating, she moved to Buffalo with her fiance, Tony Steward, who had been drafted into the NFL by the Bills in 2015.
“Britt hadn’t been feeling well for about four to five months,” Britt’s father, Ty Burns, said. “She kept going to the doctor, but they didn’t really know. On Dec. 5 or 6, she had a tumor that burst in her ovaries area. On Dec. 9, we found out Britt had ovarian cancer.”
After connecting with various doctors and trying different treatments, Burns died on Feb. 1, 2016.
Throughout her three-month battle, Burns started a fundraiser to raise awareness among young women about ovarian cancer. After her death, the Burns family started the Fight Like Britt Foundation to keep her efforts alive.
The foundation’s goal was to educate 1 million female college athletes across the country about the symptoms of ovarian cancer.
This is when Britt’s story became part of the Tar Heel story. Terry Morgan, an old friend of the Burns family and a UNC graduate, connected the Burns family with UNC's FORevHER Tar Heels program — an initiative launched a little over a year ago to expand and enhance opportunities within women’s sports programs — to share Britt’s story.
“Britt led a wonderful life,” Morgan said. “She was a wonderful and gracious person. It is so important to share this knowledge and to make the Carolina community more aware about this disease.”