A very special fan will be on the sidelines Saturday, rooting
for the Washington and Lee women's lacrosse team when the Generals
take on Virginia Wesleyan.
Maggie Reca, a 16-year old from Northern Virginia, will be on the sidelines as an honorary team member through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation.
The Friends of Jaclyn Foundation (FOJ) is a, non-profit, charitable organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for children with pediatric brain tumors and their families. Formed in 2005, FOJ has completed over 230 adoptions in over 20 different sports.
The foundation was created after the Northwestern University women's lacrosse team formed a relationship with 11-year-old Jaclyn Murphy, who was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in March 2004. Jaclyn's extended Wildcats family produced a group of "older sisters" helping her as she continually battles her illness. In turn, Jaclyn has enhanced the team through her contagious joy of life, courage, strength and relentless spirit.
Maggie was first diagnosed with a brain tumor while on a family vacation in North Carolina in 2002. On the Fourth of July, Maggie fell down a flight of stairs. With no signs of improvement the next day, Maggie's family rushed her to the hospital, where they performed a CatScan and diagnosed her with a brain tumor. The next day she was flown to Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C., where she was diagnosed with Juvenile Pilocytic Astrocytoma (JPA) and underwent her first of many surgeries.
JPA is the most common form of childhood brain tumors, and while the lowest grade, the tumor can prove to be life-threatening depending on the tumor's position in the brain. Often located near centers for vital signs, emotion, movement and sensory development, treatments can often leave a child with long-term neurologic and health impairments.
Since that day, Maggie has continued to undergo treatment to help prevent the tumor from growing, but all the while her family sought out ways to maintain some sort of normalcy in Maggie's life. The Reca's found the Friends of Jaclyn Program, and added its name to a list of families waiting for the opportunity to be adopted by a collegiate sports team.
After several years of waiting, Maggie became a part of the W&L women's lacrosse team in 2008 when Dennis Murphy, Jaclyn's father, called the Reca family to let them know he had found a team ready to adopt Maggie.
"I had no idea where W&L was," Kathi Reca, Maggie's mom, says. "But once we met the team and they truly adopted Maggie we didn't care that it took three hours to drive from Northern Virginia."
Maggie and her family attend as many games as possible during
the season, but the team also stays in touch with her
"Maggie is very tech-savvy," senior keeper and captain Katharine Farrar says. "Throughout the year we are able to stay in touch via text messages, Facebook and also e-mail."
Farrar also noted that the team started a new tradition this year of sending Maggie a monthly package. Each month, one of the classes is responsible for putting together a package, usually relating to a holiday within that month.
But the teams' favorite weekends are those when Maggie comes to visit, either for a game or just to hang out with the team after practice and eat pizza and watch a basketball game. Senior midfielder and captain Emmy Mathews mentioned that Maggie's upbeat and warm personality has benefitted the team, setting a wonderful example for how to handle and rise above tough situations in their lives.
"Having Maggie on the sidelines puts everything in perspective for us," Mathews says. "It inspires us to play our hardest and leave everything we have on the field.
"It also reminds us that there are bigger things [in life] than lacrosse and that we should always have our priorities straight."
Since joining the W&L women's lacrosse family in 2008, many of the original team members have graduated, but most still keep in contact with Maggie. Kathi is quick to point out that Maggie is not as socially active as other girls her age, which is why FOJ is so important to the family.
"Maggie is fighting a disease, but many people do not see how that also impacts her personal life," Kathi says. "She has lost some social aspects outside of school, but FOJ helps provide a community for Maggie to interact with her peers and feel like part of a group."
"We appreciate everything Coach Diamond and Moore do to keep us involved," Kathi says. "We can't wait to see the girls again this weekend…Go Generals!"
At Saturday's contest, W&L will hold a raffle of Generals women's lacrosse gear and also accept donations, with all proceeds benefitting the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation.