"They don't see her disability. They just include her."
Bryanna, age 12, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at an early age, and has been using a powered wheelchair since the age of five. Because of this, Bryanna, like many children who participate in Team IMPACT, has experienced social isolation, exclusion, and the overwhelming sense that she is different. As her mother shared, Bryanna was often prohibited from participating in gym class at her school, was not invited to many birthday parties or playdates, and to-date has never had a sleepover—all things many children consider commonplace. However, when Bryanna was drafted to the St. Mary's Women's Basketball team, much of that social isolation and exclusion disappeared.
In 2014, Bryanna was welcomed by the team with open arms, and made a connection almost instantly. According to her mother, "The team was very friendly, outgoing and silly, and that drew Bryanna right in." This was reassuring for mom Cindy Sikora, as Bryanna was a bit apprehensive about the basketball/sports element of this match. She had never played basketball, and was unsure how she would fit into the team. Little did Bryanna know, fitting in would be easy.
Today, the team incorporates Bryanna into both basketball and non-basketball related activities, and makes sure she never feels left out. During the season Bryanna takes part in the post-game handshake with the other team and pulls up right behind the bench for every huddle. The team and the coaches also include her in their post season-banquet where she gets to hand out awards to deserving players. Each element of involvement is so big for Bryanna because, as her mother states, "She gets to finally be a part of something. She doesn't have to sit everything out." The women of St. Mary's Basketball also bought Bryanna her very own basketball so she could pass, shoot, or play around with it during practices and at home. This ball has actually served as a therapy device for Bryanna, and has helped her engage her fingers and gain mobility and strength in her arms.
Off the court, the team and coaches host birthday parties for Bryanna, take her to various sporting events on campus, and offer support to the family during challenging times. When Bryanna's father passed away earlier this year, the women of St. Mary's basketball were there to support the Sikora family every step of the way. The team and coaches also regularly accompany Bryanna to classes and camps she attends at Hannah and Friends, an organization that is dedicated to improving the quality of life for children and adults with special needs. During the school year, you can find the team at Bryanna's favorite class, Music and Movement, supporting her love for being in front of people and performing. This summer Coach Makielski spent every Wednesday with Bryanna at Hannah and Friend's summer day camp. Throughout camp Bryanna was able to showcase her many talents, two of which are performing and telling jokes.
Bryanna's relationship with the St. Mary's Women's Basketball team "has been a wonderful experience," according to Bryana's mother. "Bryanna loves her life. Even on days that she doesn't feel good, she loves her life."
“Thank you for making her smile. Thank you for making her feel like a normal little girl. It doesn’t seem like much, but it means everything to us.” - Mother of Zoe, age 7 – University of Hartford Women’s Basketball
"There are some people in life that make you laugh a little louder, smile a little bigger and live just a little bit better" - Mother of Ella, age 11 - Eastern Michigan University Softball
"On some of the very hard days when he has been crippled by pain, Caleb will see the team and forget about it. As soon as we leave, it hits him like a tidal wave. But for that period of time, he's a 'normal' 5-year-old. His jersey has become his armor. When he is scared, when he has surgery, when he is scared of being made fun of - he wears his jersey." - Mother of Caleb, age 5 - Macalester Football
"When we went to bed last night, he turned to me and said, 'Mom, I couldn't get through cancer without my team'." - 10-year-old about his Colorado College Men's Basketball teammates
"It was a beautiful, uplifting experience! You all brought joy to her sweet little heart." - Mother of Sofia, age 5 - University of Southern California Women's Soccer
"We thought she’d just be part of the team by extension, but they’ve deeply integrated her into the team and took her under their collective wing. There is really a special camaraderie that comes with being part of a team, and is not something that everyone has the opportunity to experience. My daughter feels part of this – she truly sees herself as a part of this team.” - Father of Marianne, age 16 - Northeastern University Women’s Ice Hockey
"They are a wonderful, wonderful program and they have won everyone's hearts in our community for taking a special pride in caring for Maverick and his illness. It is just the most wonderful feeling as a Mom to watch your kid actually excited to take his medicine and do his infusions so that he can stay healthy and pray he is healthy to be with the Zips whenever he can." - Mother of Maverick, age 10 - University of Akron Men's Soccer
"It is humbling to watch a young boy who has dealt with so much, remain very strong. It definitely puts the world into perspectve. A high five from Jesse before games always seemed to mean more." - Teammate of Jesse, age 5 - FIT Men's Basketball
"The impact Maisy has had on us is far greater than the impact we could ever have on her. We are very close team but Maisy brings us even closer together by showing us every day that no obstacle is too large to overcome." - Teammate of Maisy, age 8 - University of Minnesota Softball
"He has taught me that no battle is too big and life is not a matter of your circumstances, but how you deal with them." - Teammate of John-Anthony, age 12 - Connecticut College Men's Ice Hockey
"Kyra has really opened our eyes to things that go on outside of the life of basketball and the struggles that some of us have no idea went on. She helps keep the locker room calmer in close games. It is great to see her on the bench cheering and happy to be there. So glad our team got this great opportunity for our season and seasons to come." - Teammate of Kyra, age 9 - Maryville University
Medical Personnel Testimonials
"I have referred several patients over the years to Team IMPACT. All of the patients I have referred have had nothing but good things to say. One patient I referred had cystic fibrosis and LOVED hockey, but had never been able to play himself. The men on the SNHU hockey team made him feel like he was one of them. He had his own locker, jersey and went on many outings with these young men. One hospital admission they even came in and visited him! He had their phone numbers and talked with them daily. To me, it is clear how much this program effects not only the patients and families, but truly the teams that participate. The bond they share with the children and teens they are paired with is unlike that of any other. Team IMPACT is an amazing organization." - Certified Child Life Specialist from Boston Children's Hospital
"The changes you see in these kids is like a gift they’re given. A gift that you can’t replicate by anything else. It’s truly remarkable what Team IMPACT has given these kids and I am a believer." - Lisa Scherber, Director of Patient and Family Programs, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute