Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Changing people's lives

Close your eyes and imagine you are eight years old. Life’s pretty cool. You’ve got loads of friends, fall football is about to start, you’re the star running back and the ‘cool kid’ but then, one morning, it starts. At first, you just feel funny, a bit dizzy with flu-like symptoms but also a cough that just will not go away and you are so very tired…really, really tired! Before you know it, you’re surrounded by doctors and your family. Everyone looks serious and they start to tell you, “You’re going to be in hospital for a while… You’re going to lose your hair… Life’s going to be a little different for a while.”

For the first few weeks, it’s actually pretty fun in an odd sort of way. You get loads of cards, lots of visitors, your friends make fun of the tubes coming out of you and when you push a button, nurses come running. After a few more weeks things are a little different. Your friends are playing games with each other but you’re not well enough to join in, everyone you see is old (your parents were always old but now everyone else is even older). Worst of all, it’s pretty obvious there’s no football for you this fall. Then one day, your parents tell you that you’re going to be on a team…but it’s not football, it’s baseball which is really strange! You like baseball but you’re not much good at it. Who would want you and, honestly, who would want you now?

Apparently there’s going to be a “Draft Day” but you’ll meet your new team mates before that. It all sounds a bit strange but, hey, it’s better than lying in bed all day! When you were told it was the Lynchburg College baseball team, you actually didn’t realize that your parents really did mean a college team but now, three weeks later, you’ve met the Coach (who seems a really nice guy) and a few of the team (and they are really cool ..and big). Now it’s “Draft Day” and you’re standing in a corridor while the Coach and lots of student-athletes are in the gym next door and you hear the Coach saying “ ..and with the last pick of the 2013 draft, we select eight year old Kyle James!” Mom pushes you into the room, the coach shakes your hand, gives you your jersey in your size and with your name on the back and then you look around. Students from every sport are standing up applauding and cheering and, you know what? It’s you they are applauding and cheering. By the time it’s all over, every one of them has stopped by and ‘high-fived’ you. You really are part of a team! But it’s not just you. You look around and your little sister, who has been so quiet for so long, is up there ‘high-fiving’ people like you’ve never seen her before. At first, you think it should just be you but then you realize… This makes it even cooler!

For the next season, you go to practice, to games, you have your own locker, you email your best friends on the team and they come to see you after that nasty bone-marrow biopsy. Heck! They even visit you and hang out at your home. These are your new friends. Your mom doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry when you won’t hold her hand at the field “doesn’t she know that I’m cool now?” you think. And that’s exactly what you are and your friends at school know it too; you’re not the ‘sick kid’ anymore!

It’s still tough when you have to miss a championship game because you have to undergo treatment but the 20 messages you get from your new friends as they travel down on the bus make it a little better. At the end of the season, they organize a surprise for you. You’re going with them to Yankee Stadium and are going to meet the players. When you get there, you can’t wait to say what you have said for the last six months, “I’m on the baseball team, you know.” One of the Yankees players asks, “What, Little League?” You look insulted, puff out your chest and say, “No! The Lynchburg College baseball team,” because you are and you will be next year as well!

Now’s it’s a year later and you and two other children are standing on stage telling your stories at the annual “Game Day Gala.” You look out in the crowd and see your teammates, your friends, your family…and even your college mascot. Everyone is quiet, everyone is listening and, at the end, every one of those 600 adults stands up and applauds for five minutes and you know , one more time, that you really are part of something very special.

This story could have been told from the perspective of the parents, the coaches, the medical staff or the student athletes…the impact is just as powerful. This is what Team IMPACT does every day. We match children with life-threatening or chronic illnesses with college sports teams and, in so doing, change peoples’ lives.