Team IMPACT and Pac-12 Making Dreams Come True For Children With Chronic Illnesses

Team Impact

Team IMPACT and Pac-12 Making Dreams Come True For Children With Chronic Illnesses

Meet five-and-a-half-year-old Quinn, a current kindergartner from Northern California who loves to scooter, surf and swim. She believes in fairies and hopes to one day stay up late enough to meet one. She is also a member of the 2021 Pac-12 championship Cal swimming and diving team, through Team IMPACT, a national nonprofit.

In September 2019, Quinn came home from preschool and her parents noticed that she had some dark bruising on both of her shins. Although Quinn was an active kid, the bruising seemed unusual, and her pediatrician recommended they get some routine blood work done. On a Wednesday afternoon, her parents took Quinn for a lab draw, and on Thursday morning received a call that they should calmly, but quickly, bring her to the pediatric hospital – that her blood work indicated she may have leukemia. That morning, more tests confirmed Quinn’s diagnosis: B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-Cell ALL). She was admitted to the hospital and had to remain there for 14 straight days, as they prepared her for and began administering her treatment.

Team Impact

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For eight months, Quinn received intensive treatment, including chemotherapy, during which she could not go to school, play with friends or go out in public. Due to the treatment, she wasn’t allowed to participate, nor had the energy to participate in, a lot of physical activities. The only one doctors approved was swimming. However, she still had to stay isolated to keep her immune system safe, Quinn’s parents shared.

Prior to her diagnosis, Quinn had been taking swim lessons at Anderson’s Swim School in Pacifica, California, and when they were informed of Quinn’s diagnosis, they offered to open up their pool as many times as Quinn wanted for her to swim by herself before lessons began.

“We originally saw the brochure for Team IMPACT in the clinic where she would receive treatment,” he parents said. “(We) noticed the Cal Bears Swim cap in the photo. It immediately drew his attention about what a fun activity it might be for Quinn, since she loved the water and swimming kept her spirits high during her treatment.”

Team IMPACT is a nonprofit that helps children with serious or chronic illness  overcome acute social and emotional isolation by matching them with a college athletic team for inclusion and purpose. After finding children who are interested in the program, like Quinn, Team IMPACT gets to work finding the right team fit. Their social workers and child life specialists match each child based upon their unique needs and goals to ensure they are matched to the team where they will best excel. Clinical matchup specialists and case managers provide wrap-a-round support to the match from start to finish, talking about goals with the family, preparing the team to incorporate and support their new teammate and facilitating virtual activities and connections.

Founded in Boston in 2011, Team IMPACT is rapidly expanding its reach on the West Coast, with athletes matched at nine Pac-12 schools, among many more. Now, collegiate student-athletes are giving back beyond the lanes of the pool through their involvement with Team IMPACT.

Ayla Spitz, a sophomore on the swimming and diving team at Cal Berkeley, is as a member of the Team IMPACT leadership team.

“While things are a little different from normal because of COVID, we have still found creative ways to integrate Quinn with the team,” Spitz said. “We do frequent activities over Zoom so that she can get to know us virtually. We also send her race videos and pictures from our meets, since she cannot attend them in person.”

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Spitz sees the benefits of the program to elevate the sport to a place where it can bring light and joy to young children like Quinn, truly making a difference in their lives.

“Team IMPACT gives me the opportunity to have a positive impact and be a part of something bigger than myself,” Spitz said. “Our team talks a lot about swimming for something bigger than yourself, and Team IMPACT allows us to do this outside of the pool, too. We strive to support Quinn through tough phases of her treatment, and we want to be able to bring a smile to her face during difficult times. She is also a great teammate and cheerleader, and we love having her as a part of our team!”

Makenna Turner, a Team IMPACT Fellow and swimmer at the University of Southern California, is looking forward to her team being matched with a Team IMPACT child.

“Team IMPACT means an opportunity for a child to get a chance that they would have never had before, but also an opportunity for college athletes to give back and share the opportunity they have been given to be a student-athlete, creating a mutually beneficial relationship, Turner said. “I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of because I saw it as the least I could do to be able to hopefully give back to young kids in the local community, as well as USC.”

Alexis Liebowitz is a water polo player at UCLA, another Pac-12 program involved with the organization, where they are also matched with their star athlete, Melissa.

“Melissa is such a light on our team,” Liebowitz said. “She is the perfect addition. Melissa reminds us that being a part of a team is being part of something so much bigger than yourself. We get to share our love for the game, and the love for our team. The team would not be the same without her!”

As for the future of Team IMPACT, Turner is hopeful that it will continue to grow in its representation throughout the Pac-12 and collegiate teams nationwide, as she sees the immense emotional impact and inspiration these children have on the teams fortunate enough to be matched with them.

“I would love to see multiple matches on USC’s campus, but also more matches across the whole Pac-12,” Turner said. “I want it to be a program that is included and recognized at games, tournaments, and conference championships of all sports. The more people that know about TI, the more opportunities we have to change a child’s life for the better.”

Spitz shares similar sentiments.

“I would love to see more college teams involved with the program,” she said. “Post-COVID, I think it would be cool to do more events that involve multiple teams coming together to support a match and raise awareness for the program (like at the USC/Cal dual meet) because it shows the kids how many people are out there rooting for them.”

Team IMPACT truly creates special relationships and a shared joy for all those involved, and Quinn’s family sees that.

“Team IMPACT has provided friendships, role models, and strength to Quinn,” her parents said. “The Cal team has organized games to play over Zoom, sent her cards and packages, and video chats to her from their meets. She really feels truly a part of the team. Quinn, in return, makes posters for their meets and watches them on a live stream, cheering them on, wearing all of her gear, and cheers when they win as if she has won, too.”

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This beautiful relationship between Quinn and her Cal teammates is just one story of the incredible impact that this organization has in the lives of these courageous young athletes and the lives of the teams that they touch.

Student-Athletes can apply to be fellows in order to get their team involved and find a match for their program. To the teams, families, and incredible young athletes they are matched with, the experience means the world.

“It is incredibly moving to see these women dedicate so much of their time and love to Quinn and her sister,” said Quinn’s parents. “They have brought Quinn into their squad and it is the highlight of her week when she gets to talk to them. Or they send her videos from their competitions. They have provided Quinn with confidence and strength and encouragement that she would not have without Team IMPACT and the work they did to connect her.”

For more information on this incredible organization and ways to get involved, visit https://www.teamimpact.org/

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