Volleyball Skills Aid in Player’s Fight to Walk Again

Many of us never want to image life without volleyball.  But life can change in an instant, suddenly and without warning.  Here is one player’s story.  Continue reading to see how volleyball skills on the court have helped one player fight to walk again and how his story has inspired many, including cross-the-net rivals.

Standing Again

Paralyzed volleyball player Nick Williams taking small steps — literally. After a 2008 car accident left him paralyzed, former Cardinal Gibbons volleyball standout Nick Williams is on his feet and taking his first steps in more than two years.

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The brace encasing his body can be cumbersome, but Nick Williams is smiling anyway. As long as he’s on his feet and taking steps — no matter how small — he considers the day a success. Two years ago a single-car accident put the Cardinal Gibbons volleyball player in a coma and he awoke paralyzed from the chest down. Doctors doubted Williams would ever walk again. But he wouldn’t accept that. After allowing himself one night to cry, Williams refocused.

“I just thought to myself, ‘Watch me,’ ” he said. “I was used to fighting back in games. This is just another competition. I’m not battling the clock or another team. I’ll just battle myself and my abilities.” In November, Williams first used his brace to stand and take the first steps since he was confined to a wheelchair.

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“I’m in disbelief,” he said after a physical therapy session. “If my arms weren’t sore, I wouldn’t believe this is happening.” It was a moving sight that touched his physical therapists, fellow patients and most importantly, his family. “I still cry every time I see it,” said Williams’ mother, Donna Pappas. “When I saw my baby boy upright for the first time in two and a half years, all I could think of how he took his first steps as a baby. There was so much emotion.” It’s been a long journey for Williams. But with community support, therapists who gave him hope and an optimistic outlook, he’s made remarkable progress.

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Support pours in…Williams, 19, doesn’t remember what happened early May 4, 2008, when he left his father’s house in Pompano Beach, to drive to his mother’s and take his uncle to the airport. It was only later that he learned his car had traveled onto a median and struck a tree and street sign along Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale. Three months after his accident, Williams left Jackson Memorial Hospital and returned home. Using a wheelchair, he also went back to finish high school. Teammates, classmates and friends provided support and he spoke at the school’s orientation for incoming freshmen.

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Williams became a regular at Gibbons’ sporting events, often donning the school colors as he cheered on the Chiefs’ sideline. His story captured the interest of many in the South Florida community, including former volleyball rivals who held fundraisers to help the family with medical bills. Also touched by Williams’ plight were Michael and Magda Sedra, the owners of SpectraCare, a physical therapy facility in Fort Lauderdale. The Sedras, who understood the physical and financial challenges Williams’ recovery would entail, reached out to his family.

They made the family a generous offer — physical therapy at their rehabilitation center with no cost. “When we have a need in the community and we know that we can help someone in need, it makes our day,” Magda Sedra said. “If we can get Nick to walk and give him the freedom of being independent, that’s our dream.” Over the past 29 months, Williams has worked with Michael Sedra, his primary physical therapist, to build strength in his upper body. That became crucial after the accident left his spinal cord bruised in several spots. Despite a traumatic brain injury that has affected his short-term memory, Williams was able to finish his outstanding classes at Gibbons, which allowed him to graduate with his class in 2009.

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He later started volunteering as a math tutor at his old school, Bayview Elementary and this fall, he became an assistant coach with the Gibbons basketball team when head coach Marty Seidlin invited Williams to join his staff. Williams jokes it’s a perfect sport for him to coach because more often than not, Seidlin and the fellow assistants are usually sitting on the bench, like he is. “He’s a great inspiration to us,” said Joe Hajj, the team’s captain. “He’s been through the worst and he’s always so positive. He always tells us we’ll get through whatever we’re going through.” Through all of his activities though, Williams’ goal has always remained a constant. He was determined to walk.

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Staying focused…Earlier this year, the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis contacted Williams’ family about potential involvement with a research study, but Michael Sedra was concerned that Williams may not have been physically prepared for that kind of challenge just yet. Instead, Sedra wanted Williams to get stronger and this fall, he and his wife suggested a brace to get Williams on his feet and maybe, even walking. Williams, with his trademark optimism, was eager to try the device.

“I was really excited,” he said. “I figured if nothing else, I could use it as something to stand up with at home.” Pappas, however, was a bit worried that at some point, the family would have to raise some of the money for the custom-designed brace that could cost from $6,000 to $10,000. But again, the Sedras told the family to focus on Williams’ treatment and not finances.

Even then, Pappas feared giving her son any kind of false hope. That concern soon proved unfounded. In early November, Williams first used the brace to take his first steps with the aid of parallel bars at SpectraCare. Less than a month later, he began walking laps around the facility’s first floor. Michael Sedra, his father Jim Williams and a walker helped him find stability and balance. It’s hard work for Williams, as he often has to stop and catch his breath.

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Williams wasn’t walking on his own yet, but it didn’t matter. He was on his way. The entire experience has left Williams and his family both grateful and hopeful. Now the teen is ready to see what milestones he can achieve in the year ahead. “Eventually, I’d like to do this on my own,” Williams smiles. “But walking is walking. You have to start with small steps … literally.”

(Full Article & Images from SunSentinel.com and written by Christy Cabrera Chirinos. No copyright violation intended.)

Tasty Tuesdays – Recipes for Athletes Day 12

Whole Wheat Pasta Asparagus Lemon

Keep an eye out for a new post or recipe on Tasty Tuesdays.  Food for athletes, healthy snacks on the go, and more!  Great for all day tournaments, grabbing a bite to eat in between class and practice, or at home for dinner during the off-season…like volleyball players know what that is :)

Volleyball Team Rallies against both Coaches’ Cancers

They say bad things happen in 3′s, but I’m not sure there is much evidence to support that.  Unfortunately, for this volleyball team it seemed all too real.  Just as they had done before, the team chose to rally together to show their strength, courage and support.  Sometimes life is bigger than the game.  Read on to see this humbling story.

Volleyball team shares inspiring story

By Braden Ashe
Published: Sunday, June 30, 2013 12:01 a.m.

When Kiski Area girls’ volleyball coach Ellen Toy called a mandatory team meeting in February for players and parents, the girls knew something was wrong.

They had been beckoned to two similar meetings the year before.

At the first, they were told assistant coach Jaime Vick Moran would succumb at 28 to the leukemia she had been battling for more than a decade.

A few months later, they gathered in the high school gymnasium to reflect on the loss of teammate Jenna Prusia. The Apollo teenager died in December as a result of injuries she suffered in a sledding accident.

Now, Toy was divulging to the group that she had been re-diagnosed with the gastric cancer that had been in remission for three years.

JDB Kiski 1 Kiski Area High School volleyball coach Ellen Toy, right, is shown in May 2010 with assistant coach Jaime Vick Moran when both were battling cancer. Toy has suffered a reoccurance of her cancer. The disease claimed Vick in August. Jason Bridge / Valley News Dispatch

“The volleyball team is like family to me,” she said. “They’ve already been through so much and suffered so much. I wanted them to hear it directly from me and not through any other channels.”

Since Toy’s rediagnosis, the volleyball team has rallied around her and her family.

Kiski Area senior-to-be Gracie McDermott in March started a Twitter account and blog titled “Ellen on Ellen.” The volleyball player is using social media as a platform to get Toy on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”

McDermott said she was inspired to spark the movement because she wanted to share Toy’s positive message and give back to the coach and educator who has touched her and hundreds of others’ lives.

“After everything we’ve been through, Coach Ellen has gotten us through all of it with a smile and words of encouragement,” she said. “The world needs to know how inspirational she’s been.”

“She has always been there for us, and now we have to be here for her as she goes through a tough time.”

Toy, 52, initially was diagnosed with gastric cancer in October 2009. Shortly after, the Kiski Area head coach underwent surgery that removed 65 percent of her stomach.

In January 2010, she began a regimen of chemotherapy and radiation treatment until the cancer went into remission in June of that year.

Since her February recurrence, Toy has been given a gastrectomy, which is the complete removal of the stomach. Last Thursday marked the second of her biweekly chemotherapy sessions, which will run through December.

Despite the challenging road ahead, the volleyball coach said she intends to return to the court and spending time with her “second family.”

“If I’m physically able to do it, I’ll be out there,” she said. “I don’t want to hold them back if I’m too slow, either. We’ll know by July if I can go, but as of now, I’m still the head coach.”

Toy was able to coach the 2010 season during her treatment, in part because of the support she received from the players and their families, she said.

The team that year organized the “Take a Meal” program, which put their families on a rotating schedule to deliver three meals each day to the Toy household. The girls designed and sold T-shirts to raise awareness and money for Toy’s treatment.

“My support group — from my husband, Tim, and my daughters to the volleyball team — has been absolutely incredible,” the mother of two said. “It definitely eases the daily challenges and takes your mind off a lot.”

One of the paramount components of that support group, Toy said, was Jamie Moran.

Formerly Jamie Vick, Moran was first diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) when she was a freshman and standout athlete at Kiski Area High School.

After receiving a bone marrow transplant from her sister, Moran remained cancer-free for six years. She suffered a relapse in 2006 while studying and playing basketball at St. Vincent College.

Again, she had beaten her latest bout of ALL, and, shortly after graduating, she returned to her high school alma mater to teach and coach volleyball alongside Toy.

The St. Vincent College graduate formed strong bonds with Toy and the volleyball girls, but her leukemia returned in 2010. In August 2012, Moran died from complications of a bone marrow transplant.

“Jamie was planted in my life for a purpose, and now I know why,” Toy said. “She was so strong and such an inspiration to all of us. She was a better friend and mentor than anyone could have asked for. She helped me every step of the way through my own fight.”

Toy first discovered she had cancer on the team bus en route to a late-season match when she fielded a call from her doctor. Moran was sitting in the seat across from her and offered immediate support.

“At first, it feels like the wind is just knocked out of you and your head is spinning,” Toy said, “but then I looked over and saw someone who had been through it all and who was going to guide me through the process.”

Moran adopted legendary college basketball coach Jim Valvano’s famous mantra, “never give up,” throughout both of the coaches’ ailments. Toy said the assistant coach meant more to the team than words could describe and that her passing brought the unit closer together and has made them stronger people.

“Very few people in this world have left the kind of impact that Jamie did,” she said. “The girls saw how selfless she was and how she was able to touch so many lives, and that’s left a huge impression.”

The Kiski Area School District started an annual scholarship this year to honor Moran’s legacy. The scholarship in her name will be given each year to female student-athletes who embody what the volleyball coach represented.

Later this year, hundreds of area residents will pile into the Kiski Area High School gymnasium to watch the volleyball team play an exhibition match in the fourth annual “Jam the Gym” charity event. The charity was conceived in 2010 to help mitigate Moran’s hospital bills.

This year, proceeds from “Jam the Gym” will go toward Moran’s scholarship fund, Children’s Hospital and the Fluorescent Angels Fund.

Toy said the event is a testament to Moran’s character and the team’s spirit.

“When life presents you with great adversity, you can either rise to the occasion or crumble under it,” she said. “These girls have continually shown great faith and power and overcame everything that’s been thrown their way.”

“They really are an amazing group of people.”

Braden Ashe is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or bashe@tribweb.com.


Tasty Tuesdays – Recipes for Athletes BONUS DAY!!

Asian Chicken Salad

Keep an eye out for a new post or recipe on Tasty Tuesdays.  Food for athletes, healthy snacks on the go, and more!  Great for all day tournaments, grabbing a bite to eat in between class and practice, or at home for dinner during the off-season…like volleyball players know what that is :)

Tasty Tuesdays – Recipes for Athletes Day 10

Quick Baked Beef Pasta

Keep an eye out for a new post or recipe on Tasty Tuesdays.  Food for athletes, healthy snacks on the go, and more!  Great for all day tournaments, grabbing a bite to eat in between class and practice, or at home for dinner during the off-season…like volleyball players know what that is :)