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For kids too sick to play, a chance to join the team

November 29, 2016 at 6:20 PM EDT
In our NewsHour Shares moment of the day, a program that enables critically and chronically ill children to be part of a sports team. Seven-year-old Ava loves to play soccer. When she was diagnosed with leukemia, she was sidelined from the game. But thanks to Team IMPACT, Ava is now an honorary member of Babson College’s women's soccer team. From WGBH in Boston, Tina Martin reports.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Now to a “NewsHour” Shares: something that caught our eye that we thought you might find interesting as well.

A program called Team IMPACT is trying to bring normalcy to what can be a stressful situation for parents and children fighting sometimes life-threatening diseases. The organization has matched more than 1,000 children with college athletes across the country.

From PBS station WGBH in Boston, Tina Martin introduces us to one little girl who is feeling the team spirit.

TINA MARTIN: This is 7-year-old Ava Girolimetti. She loves to cook and eat.

AVA GIROLIMETTI: Cheese is one of my favorite foods.

TINA MARTIN: She has a collection of fancy hats with flowers.

AVA GIROLIMETTI: Let’s see. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, I think?

TINA MARTIN: And she loves soccer.

AVA GIROLIMETTI: We play all positions.

TINA MARTIN: Outwardly, Ava’s a pretty normal little girl, but she was diagnosed with leukemia last spring.

ALLISON GIROLIMETTI, Ava’s Mother: Everything moved so quickly from when she was diagnosed. We went to the hospital on Saturday, and didn’t come home for six weeks.

TINA MARTIN: Doctors started chemotherapy immediately, and Ava was sidelined her from her favorite sport.

MARC GIROLIMETTI, Ava’s Father: At home, we have scheduled medications that she has to take on a near daily basis.

TINA MARTIN: Ava may have been too sick to play soccer, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be part of a team. Both she and her sister Sophia are part of the Babson College Women’s soccer team through a program called Team IMPACT.

ALLISON GIROLIMETTI: For her, its been a great experience, because she plays soccer herself and she’s not able to play this season.

TINA MARTIN: Based in Massachusetts, Team IMPACT matches college sports teams with critically or chronically ill children all over the country.

ERIKA LOOMER, Team IMPACT: We are currently in 45 states, 427 campuses, 30,000 student athletes.

TINA MARTIN: Here in Massachusetts, Team IMPACT currently has 118 children like Ava matched with all kinds of college teams.

ERIKA LOOMER: You don’t see that battle on her face, when she’s around these student athletes.

TINA MARTIN: Babson junior Colleen Beggan understands Ava’s battle better than most.

COLLEEN BEGGAN, Babson College Soccer Player: My sister was also a soccer player and she had cancer in her ribs.

TINA MARTIN: Being at Babson takes on a special meaning for Marc and Allison. It’s where they went to college and fell in love.

And now they see their daughter finding a safe haven from her disease.

MARC GIROLIMETTI: It means everything to see your child sort of in a much more natural environment, with the understanding that, without her having cancer, we probably wouldn’t be having this experience.

TINA MARTIN: Being part of the team allows Ava to be a fun, curious, and outgoing 7-year-old. Her big sister, Sophia, says she is pretty good on the soccer field, too.

SOPHIA GIROLIMETTI, Ava’s Sister: She’s very, very good. She’s awesome.

TINA MARTIN: Her family says she has a long way to go with treatment, but believe the future is bright.

For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Tina Martin in Wellesley, Massachusetts.