Kids with Cancer

Meet the RED Sparkle Octopus Crusaders & Their Inspiration 

by St. Baldrick's Foundation
March 18, 2022

by David Gosser, team captain and dad

The RED Sparkle Octopus Crusaders (RSOC) Team honors four children – Nina, Tommy, Amaya, and Kristina – who met in 2005, while in treatment at the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters (CHKD) in Norfolk, Virginia. They started shaving individually in 2005/06 and formed the original team in 2009; this version came together in 2014. Other families affected by childhood cancer and dozens of good friends have joined the team’s efforts over the years. Since inception, the RSOC have raised over $380,000 for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. They remain fully committed to funding research to create cures, united by the hope that they are helping other kids and families find better outcomes. The team’s name is a combined tribute to the memories of the four Angels.

Photo collage of Nina, Tommy, Amaya, and Kristina

The RED: Nina Hermes (5/24/1999 – 11/15/2007) – Rhabdomyosarcoma 

Photo of NinaPhoto of Nina

Nina was a smart, vibrant, and beautiful child with a disarmingly dry sense of humor. She favored rainbows, read books voraciously, participated enthusiastically in Girl Scouts, and let everyone know that red was her favorite color. She was playful and engaging, cutting quite a delightful sight as she went zipping around the hospital using her IV pole as a scooter. Everyone loved Nina’s charming spirit. She loved life and lived it with abundant zeal. Most of all, Nina loved her family.

Stephanie Thompson, Nina’s mom, is an attorney and German translator who has shaved four times. She has volunteered since 2008 and served as the RSOC Team Captain for years. Last year, Stephanie even received a $50,000 donation to the RSOC from a most generous friend! Her husband, Patrick Hermes, is a German-born architect and avid guitar player. He has shaved 16 times, steadily keeping a solemn promise to his precious daughter. Stephanie’s beloved Uncle Sam shaved for years and Nina’s younger brother, Simon, has also shaved in her honor. The family, including Nina’s older sister Michelle, has organized fundraising events at local restaurants and their church.

The Sparkle: Amaya Sims (6/1/2002 – 3/18/2013) – Astrocytoma (brain tumor)

Photo of AmayaPhoto of Amaya

Amaya was just three years old when she was diagnosed, the youngest of the four kids. Amaya enjoyed good food, good music, reading, and drawing. She loved her family dearly and drew incredible strength from their love, undergoing years of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, before eventually pursuing help through holistic medicines. Amaya delighted in wearing glittery outfits, but it was the unforgettable, striking sparkle that leapt out of her eyes, accompanied by her persistent smile, that raised the spirits of everyone she met and inspired her contribution to the RSOC moniker. She endured the longest bout with cancer among the group and survived to become the oldest of them all.

Her father, Ron Sims, is shaving for the ninth year. He teaches pre-K and elementary students physical education and science enrichment. Ron’s wife, Brenda, also a teacher of underserved preschoolers, supports Ron’s fundraising. They are blessed with two other children, Amaya’s older sister, Taylor, and her younger brother, Kai. A very close-knit family devoted to keeping memories of Amaya alive, they work to support the research that will eventually conquer all childhood cancers.

The Octopus: Thomas Gosser (1/29/1999 – 10/6/2008) – Ewing sarcoma

Photo of TommyPhoto of Tommy

Tommy dreamed of becoming a marine biologist and studying his beloved octopus. He was a curious, creative, and caring kid, endowed with a wise, old soul. He was a wonderful older brother to Mark, nurturing shared interests in Yu-Gi-Oh and video games. He loved reading with his mother, Linda Manning, who spent over 100 nights with him at CHKD in his first year of treatment. The local newspaper chronicled Tommy’s “adventure,” as he called it, in three front-page articles. His story, encouraging everyone to “follow your dreams,” touched countless people and changed lives. 

Tommy loved St. Baldrick’s. This is the 16th year that his father, David, is shaving to keep the promise he made at Tommy’s last request – to always work for other kids and families. A former attorney and professor, he has been the top local event participant 10 times and has served as Team Captain since 2017. David also works with St. Baldrick’s as an advocate, making well over a dozen trips to Capitol Hill. His wife, Linda, a university professor, shaved her head to celebrate her 50th birthday, and David’s parents Sue and Roy also shaved four times. 

The Crusaders: Kristina Kral (1/31/1999 – 11/23/2006) – Pancreatoblastoma (brain tumor) 

Photo of KristinaPhoto of Kristina

The Crusaders formed around Kristina, an incredibly happy, kind, and loving child who was first diagnosed just two days before her 6th birthday. She woke every day and asked, “What are we going to do for fun today?” Her smile was as bright as her pink hat, and her laughter was like music that is heard often, but never tires. She loved her miniature schnauzer, Sophie, who later became a therapy animal at CHKD. Kristina showed the true meaning of courage, providing inspiration and purpose to her family, including her sisters Jennifer and Brooke. 

Kristina’s dad, Tom Kral, is the longest serving member of RSOC, shaving for the 18th time this year. He is a surgical assistant. His wife Joanne is a civil servant for the Coast Guard. Tom and Joanne opened their home to each of their daughters as infants in foster care, adopting each one before their second birthday. The playground in the family’s neighborhood, where Kristina loved to play, is now named for her, honoring her indomitable, fun-loving spirit. Tom loves that St. Baldrick’s provides more than funding; it gives those who share the unique pain of childhood cancer a supportive community, producing surprisingly upbeat, fun events that are truly celebrations of love. 

The “Silent” RSOC Teammate:

Tom’s good friend, Mike Rech, is also a St. Baldrick’s Crusader. He joined Tom’s efforts at the beginning, loyally honoring Kristina, always participating as a valuable member of the RED Sparkle Octopus Crusaders. Thanks, Mike, and thanks to everyone supporting this remarkable team in memory of four Angels!

2019 Before Shave Photo of Team RSOC2019 Before Shave Photo of Team RSOC
(L-R) Mike Rech, Tom Kral, David Gosser, Patrick Hermes, Ron Sims 

2019 After Shave Photo of Team RSOC2019 After Shave Photo of Team RSOC
(L-R) Mike Rech, Tom Kral, David Gosser, Patrick Hermes, Ron Sims 

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