During the COVID-19 crisis, people everywhere have found new ways to maintain bonds—including a non-profit that connects kids to role models from the world of college sports.
Fourth grader Max White of Richmond, Vermont, just became a member of the UVM men's soccer team through Team Impact. The group matches children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses with college athletes.
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"A bunch of teammates text me," the 10-year-old said, describing one of the ways he bonds with his UVM Catamount role models.
Max travels from Vermont to Boston Children's Hospital for treatment of a severe form of the connective tissue disorder known as Ehlers-Danlos.
His new connection with the Cats is aimed at providing extra support and a dose of encouragement.
The other kids on Max's youth team were wowed when they heard he had signed on to join the Catamounts through Team Impact.
"My coach was like, 'There's a new member on the UVM soccer team,'" Max recalled one an interview with NECN and NBC10 Boston. "No one believed it!"
If it weren't for the pandemic, Max would've gotten to sit with the UVM guys for spring scrimmages and be a part of team events. That's now the hope for the late summer and fall season.
But at the moment, because of physical distancing requirements, it's virtual meet-ups only. The Richmond Elementary School student video chats with the players and participates in remote workouts.
Some recent discussions with the team have focused on the diet an athlete must maintain, and what off-season training regimens look like.
"Once Max is on the field with them, those relationships are just going to go so much further," Max's mom, Brooke White, predicted.
The Catamounts said the COVID-19 crisis has them even more driven to forge a bond with Max, figuring a kid who's faced big medical challenges deserves a boost—especially while his own games are off and Richmond Elementary is in remote learning mode.
"Difficult times—no doubt about it," acknowledged UVM's men's soccer coach, Rob Dow. "Any way that we can put a positive vibe out into Vermont, we want to be a part of it."
"I think it's a really good growth opportunity for both Max and his family as well as us," goalie Nate Silveira said. "So that's why it's really important for us to keep the relationship going and make it stronger."
Even though Max's condition means he has to be really careful, to avoid injury to his joints in particular, he said he's looking forward to getting to kick the ball around with his role models when the field at UVM reopens.
Until then, video meetings have been a score, thanks to Team Impact, Brooke White said.
"It's just fun," Max said of the relationship with the Catamounts.