Sports have a way of bringing together families, strangers, and communities. All over the world people celebrate games and competitions and use them to lift people’s spirits and strengthen bonds. Sporting events are also frequently used to raise awareness about important causes, whether locally or internationally. In a world that is becoming increasingly digitized encouraging people to get outside and enjoy the outdoors and company of others is becoming increasingly more important.
Sports and team activities are beneficial to people’s health. For some, sports can be even more impactful than just that. Some sports can give people hope and bring excitement into their lives during darker times. This is the case with 7-year-old Lola Danos.
A year ago, Lola was diagnosed with T-Cell lymphoma, when providers found a mass in her chest, but that has hardly stopped this young firecracker. Frequently we see that with illnesses, children and young people are some of the most ferocious fighters. Lola’s father Jacob recently said that she has been handling treatment well and that the mass in her chest has shrunk by about 30 percent. This is great news for Lola and can give both her and her family the strength to keep fighting. Being brought on as a member of the Liberty University’s women’s lacrosse team for one day gave her additional strength to carry on the fight. Additionally, exposing the young women on the team to such a strong young girl with a powerful story can teach them about a different type of endurance. Teamwork comes in many forms and can continue to have lifelong benefits for all team members long after the team dissolves.
What is Team IMPACT?
Liberty University is located in Lynchburg, Virginia and their lacrosse team is a part of a partnership called Team IMPACT. Team IMPACT is a national nonprofit organization that works to bring children with life-threatening or chronic illnesses together with college athletic teams. This is not a new concept and is one that has been successful in promoting lasting bonds between athletes and children. These relationships can help both parties grow and allow children to have meaningful experiences outside of their disease and family. Sometimes all a kid need is someone to look up to and an opportunity to feel like a kid again.
Every Team IMPACT relationship is monitored and guided by a relationship monitor to ensure that it is beneficial. When children go through the official team drafting process they then attend practices, games, team dinners, and more just like any member of the team would. The kids that become a part of the team are supported as they go through medical processes and cope with issues in their personal lives. This relationship is two-fold, enabling team members to gain some perspective on life and be inspired and motivated by the strength that people fighting diseases can have.
There are many kids with different conditions that can be eligible for Team IMPACT. The thing that is most commonly looked for is the impact that it has on the individual’s quality of life. When there is a potential candidate for a Team IMPACT relationship, it must be submitted to the Eligibility Committee. In order to be eligible a child must be between the ages of 5 and 15 and have been diagnosed with a life-threatening or chronic illness that has resulted in treatment or them being hospitalized extensively over the past 3 years. The candidate must also be someone who would benefit from a boost in their quality of life. Team IMPACT works to find a team that is close to the family so that they are not inconvenienced, and they work hard to find a team that is enthusiastic about having the child. The relationship will only work if both parties are invested.
The team that the child will be joining receives an extensive education on how to be mentors, and on the child and his or her family’s unique situation. The team then plans their draft day so that it is individualized and so that they can welcome their new team member on board with a jersey, locker, press conference and more. Draft day marks the start of the child being a part of the team. Team IMPACT then works to ensure that relationship continues to be productive in that it improves the quality of life for the child and his or her family. After a few years the child can graduate, just as his or her teammates will. It is not uncommon for the bonds to remain after graduation.
For Lola, her commitment to her team is evident in her passionate cheering at the game. With her fervor to support them, the Flames went on to beat Presbyterian. Lola wanted to know who every player was and fit perfectly on the sidelines with the rest of the Flames’ supporters. The relationship that Lola has with her team goes both ways. The team loves Lola, and has honored her by holding a signing ceremony and presenting her with a letter from the school that highlights how she has been an integral part of the team and how her motivation will enable each of them to persevere through the ups and downs of life.
Team IMPACT relationships are not just good for sick children and the team. The positive effects that they can have on the families of children are immeasurable. For Lola’s family, watching her be a part of the team provides them with the opportunity to see their daughter excited and flourishing while she continues to fight for her life. Something as simple as a sports match enables her to be a normal kid enjoying the excitement of the game, and her family gets to see her be a part of something that she might not have been able to otherwise. This provides memories that her family will always cherish. As Lola’s father describes, having a team to support her makes the bad days a bit more bearable.
How to join team IMPACT
If you are a family or team member who would like to be a part of Team IMPACT you can go through the application process. For families Team IMPACT has an application form on their website that can help give you the information you need about the program, and help you figure out if your family is eligible. School teams can fill out a similar application and you will be contacted by a recruiter within 48 hours of filling out the application. Medical providers also have the option of referring a patient whom they think will benefit from a Team IMPACT relationship. Referrals can be done by phone, e-mail, fax, or by filling out an online form.
If you are interested in getting involved with Team IMPACT in a different way you can check their job board to see if they have something that fits your skill set and/or interests. Additionally, if you are in a position to donate, doing so can help families and teams maintain mutually valuable relationships. Most expenses for team-child relationship go towards the expenses of having a full-time Regional Manager who will ensure that the relationship continues to be beneficial for all parties involved.
Photo: Liberty University