During this year’s spring break, Monmouth traveled to the Sunshine State for a match against Jacksonville. When they came home, the team had a vastly different perspective on life and a new-found inspiration from their new a 12-year-old “teammate.”
The team learned about the story of Elizabeth Buckley before the season started. Denise Westcott, the Hawks’ head coach, served on a committee with Stacy Williams, the club team coach for Elizabeth’s older sister Madison. Williams told Westcott about Elizabeth’s love for lacrosse and that the young girl was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor earlier this year.
“Coach asked if we wanted to make her part of our team, part of our F.A.M.I.L.Y. (Monmouth’s acronym meaning Forget About Me I Love You),” Gianna D’urso, a junior defender, said. “We were ecstatic and we went down there and it was so great meeting her. I know it made our teammates cherish every moment we have.”
The team left for Florida early and traveled to Orlando to meet Elizabeth, her family and teammates. Monmouth also scrimmaged against Elizabeth’s and Madison’s teams, held a mini clinic with the teams and were guests at a cookout thrown by Elizabeth’s family.
The Buckleys reciprocated by traveling to Jacksonville for the match. On the Monmouth sideline was Elizabeth as a member of the team.
“It was great to hang out and get to know Elizabeth and her friends and her family,” D’urso said. “You want to get to know not just Elizabeth, but the people who she hangs around with, too, because they have to deal with everything as well.”
That led to another familial bond established between Kelly Dalton and Elizabeth’s 9-year-old sister, Blinne.
“I was thinking there are other people hurting in this and nobody was thinking about her sisters,” Dalton said. “Blinne has been shown that life can be so hurtful and so cruel by her sister getting this disease, that somebody has to be there to say to her, ‘Not everything is so bad.’ She was amazing. She was so happy with so much going on around her. She was so happy around her sister and I think that is what she wants to give to her. That’s her part of it.”
While trying to think of something special they could do for Elizabeth, one of the teammates came up with the idea of getting her an engraved iPod and loading it with their favorite songs that they play on road trips and songs they use for their warm up routine.
“They’re mostly upbeat and positive, songs that will take her mind away from what she’s going through.”
The team went further. It created a video that it dedicated to Elizabeth using video the team shot during a layover in Newark, at their hotel in Florida and with Elizabeth riding the team bus.
Kailey Farrell, the team manager, shot most of the video and photography and edited it using the Carly Rae Jepson song, “Call Me Maybe.”
“It was becoming such a popular song,” D’urso said. “We thought it would be such a great idea. It’s just an upbeat, fun song that Elizabeth knew and it was from an upcoming new artist that nobody had really heard of yet.
“It just clicked, so we did and it and wanted Elizabeth to be part of it because she’s part of our team, too. She loved it and to have her on the bus dancing with us was a great experience for all of us.”
Since it was made, the video has nearly 27,000 views. National lacrosse publications have promoted the video, as well.
For the game against Jacksonville, the Buckleys traveled with the team so Elizabeth and her sisters could be on the sideline together.
“She’s taught us so much more than we could ever teach her,” Dalton said. “Her story, her drive. Everything about her is so inspirational. She’s really helping us and motivating us.
“Someone so young and dealing with something so tough. This girl’s heart is what’s getting her through this. And the people around her are showing her so much love and that’s where we came into play. Going there was so worth it. So definitely worth it.”
The team gets updates weekly through email and Facebook as to Elizabeth’s condition. It was thrilled to see that Elizabeth’s most recent test results were positive ones.
“I’m thinking about her all the time,” D’urso said. “Anytime I’m thinking of something or I am stressed out, whatever I’m doing can’t be that bad compared to what Elizabeth is going through. It really makes you realize what you have and that you can’t take anything for granted.
“No matter what you’re dealing with, you have to brush it off and keep going with a smile on your face because people are going through much worse. It’s an eye opener. A life-changing experience.”
Playing Saturday to get into the NCAA tournament. Elizabeth won’t be there in body but she will definitely be on the team’s mind.
“[Meeting Elizabeth] was right before heading into our conference play,” D’urso said. “I think from the first game that we started playing up until now — everything happens for a reason — I think we hit our peak. And Elizabeth was a part of that.
“Before our games reading a quote from her or a text she sent someone, that just got us going. So during a game, when we do something wrong, we keep our head up and knows it’s alright and brush it off because we play for her. It has brought our team closer together.”