Gesture is ‘making her smile’
Handing out bracelets and posters she made to the volleyball players towering around her, 10-year-old Maddie Dean seemed to already be part of the Purdue University Fort Wayne women’s volleyball team.
With the help of Team Impact, she signed a contract to become an official team member just minutes later.
“Just forming some friendships, that’s really my main focus,” Maddie said. “I think that they’re amazing. They can do anything if they put their mind to it.”
Present at the signing Friday at Gates Sports Center were athletic director Kelley Hartley Hutton, head coach Steve Florio, the entire volleyball team and Maddie’s mother and grandfather.
Since 2011, Team Impact, a national nonprofit from Boston, has joined 1,600 children with more than 500 colleges in 48 states.
Their mission is to connect children facing serious or chronic illnesses with college athletic teams.
At 3 years old, Maddie was diagnosed with juvenile dermatomyositis, a rare autoimmune disease.
The disease results in skin rash and muscle inflammation, which leads to weak muscles.
Angela Dean, Maddie’s mother, said the disease comes and goes, but when it returns, it comes back harder. She is on different treatments, including a monthly infusion.
“She’s had countless blood tests, exams, doctor’s appointments,” Dean said. “This is something she looks forward to, that if she has to deal with a disease, these are blessings that she gets from it.”
As an official Mastodon, Maddie will attend practices and matches. During the offseason, she will join in team activities.
Liz Fuerst, team captain, said the team is excited to welcome its newest member.
“We got to hang out with her a few weeks ago, and she’s going to be a perfect fit on our team,” Fuerst said. “We’re just really happy to have her.”
Florio said he hopes Maddie can use his 15-member team as inspiration.
“Our team, they’re really wonderful role models. So I’m hoping she can just watch as our athletes go through the challenges of the Division I season and be part of the university, seeking a degree,” Florio said.
Florio said the relationship with Team Impact has gone well, and it has made sure Maddie was gradually introduced and not overwhelmed.
While Maddie’s contract with the team is for two years, Florio believes the relationship will go well beyond that.
“It’s not a quick visit to a hospital or a one-time thing, this is something that will evolve as we go, and I think it will be long-lasting,” Florio said.
Dean said last week they found out Maddie’s disease was coming back, so being able to sign the contract and become part of the team has kept her mind off it.
“It’s already making an impact, making her excited and making her smile,” Dean said.