Sasha and Will Bush with Falcon teammates (from left) Danny Guadagnoli ’14, Blaine Hopwood ’14, Chris Cadigan ’14, Jeff Hill ’15 and Lorenzo Warren ’14.
On visits to the Bentley campus, Will Bush looks every bit the part of a healthy young boy. A tight coil of energy, the wiry 10-year-old typically skips first gear when he gets his motor running.
“Will is my go-go-go guy,” says his mother, Stefani. “Normally, this would be wonderful, but he has mitochondrial and primary immunodeficiency diseases. If we don’t keep an eye on him, he’ll run himself into the ground.”
Will and his 8-year-old sister, Sasha, are the newest “members” of the university’s football and field hockey teams, respectively. The Bush family was introduced to Bentley through Team IMPACT, a Quincy, Mass.-based organization that aims to improve the lives of seriously ill children by pairing them with college athletic teams.
Other Falcon teams, including men’s hockey and women’s basketball, have also taken part in the program. The children are “recruited” by the teams, given a personalized Bentley jersey, and reserved a place of honor at practices and games. Some may even get their own locker.
Teams must meet a few simple requirements to guarantee each child’s safety, but can otherwise develop their own approach to the relationships. The field hockey team, for example, sent photos and player bios to Sasha before they met.
“Sasha and her mom sang a beautiful song about faith, hope, prayer and healing,” says coach Jessica Spencer. “We teared up, and it helped us to realize the family’s daily struggle.”
Sasha, too, suffers from mitochondrial disease, a condition where the small substructures in cells don’t produce enough energy to support proper cell function and growth. Also like her brother, she has a compromised immune system that makes her more susceptible to infection. The siblings can’t participate in competitive sports, and rarely get to play with their peers. This past winter, they were homebound, venturing out only for health-care appointments.
“Getting involved with Bentley in the spring lifted a great weight from their shoulders,” says Stefani, a talented musician who was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease as an adult. “For Will and Sasha to know that they’re a part of something bigger than themselves, and that they matter to people outside of their family, means the world to them.”
The relationships benefit all sides. “We’re integrating Will into our football family, so this has a deeper impact than other volunteer efforts,” says starting quarterback Danny Guadagnoli ’14, an honors student and longtime participant in community service. “Because of Will, I feel genuine gratitude for things I used to take for granted, like going to college and playing sports. Will has made me realize that everyone should love life and live every moment happily.”
Becoming involved with Team IMPACT requires a long-term commitment and understanding that not every story has a happy ending.
Bentley’s first Team IMPACT experience, where the men’s hockey team “drafted” Framingham teen Mike Eden, ended on a somber note when the honor-roll student succumbed to
a rare form of cancer in May 2012.
“Mike traveled with us, was with us through our playoff run [in 2012] and the players used to go to his house and play video games,” says coach Ryan Soderquist. “I really think our guys became better people because of their relationship with Mike.”