Amid a recent announcement regarding one of their teammates, the Elon University women’s soccer players took a moment to gather their thoughts. Sophomore Nicole Dennion had been diagnosed with cancer.
But the silence didn’t last long. Priding itself on its chemistry and family-like atmosphere, the team knew immediately what it had to do when it heard the news.
“It wasn’t like, ‘Let’s be down,’ it was, ‘What can we do to support?’” said Mel Insley, a sophomore defender for Elon and Dennion’s roommate. “It was an outpouring of love.”
Dennion, the reigning Southern Conference Player of the Year known as “Colie” to her friends and family, was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, an aggressive, rare disease that infects the bone or the soft tissue around it. The diagnosis came after Dennion spent all of January participating in team workouts and activities, showing signs of her star form from a year ago.
In mid-February after CT scans and x-rays, doctors discovered a tumor. A biopsy revealed the official diagnosis shortly after. Dennion, head Elon team physician Dr. Kirtida Patel and some of the athletic training staff were present to inform the team of the tumor before the diagnosis.
From there, the team began brainstorming ideas of what it could do to help Dennion and her family.
“There’s no manual for it online,” Elon head coach Chris Neal said. “You just ask for advice here and there. It was natural for this group of young women to do what was best for Nicole and her mother, Sharon.”
Neal immediately created a page on gofundme.org titled “Kickin’ It With Colie!” to raise money to aid costs of relocation, living expenses, care and travel. As of March 18, the account had raised $31,435 of its goal of $35,000 and had been shared online more than one thousand times.
Word got around the soccer community quickly, spreading to a number of universities right away. Clemson University dedicated its spring games to Dennion, wearing bracelets and raising money for the fund. Neal said he’s received donations from people at Samford University, High Point University and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, among others.
“The key is just keep raising awareness within groups that matter to Colie,” Neal said. “We’re hitting all different avenues and have received a tremendous amount of support, just from the [viral nature] of Twitter and Facebook.”
The team has been constantly thinking of new ways to raise money, with bracelets, t-shirts and Relay for Life events all being talked about and considered.
“We’re always keeping her in our thoughts,” Insley said. “A variety of things have come up. Now it’s all about organizing it and executing.”
Dennion’s mother is currently staying with her, and the two will go back to their home in New Jersey. She plans to undergo treatment at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. According to Insley, Dennion has been tired and in pain, but Dennion’s personality still remains with her. Her asking randomly for a doughnut — she hates green vegetables — suggests to Insley that she’s battling this courageously.
“She says whatever comes to her mind,” Insley said. “It’s a new normal that we’ve had to adjust to, but we still hear her laugh. She’s still the same person, just now she’s fighting this.”
According to the upperclassmen, the first time Insley, Dennion and the other four members of the sophomore class visited campus and arrived at camp, they were extremely awkward. They’ve broken out of that to become extremely good friends, and that reflects in Dennion’s personality and performance on the field.
“She’s a very strong young woman,” Neal said. “All you have to do is watch her play one game and you know who she is. Her play is who she is. On the field, she’s very aggressive, passionate, strong-willed and opinionated. She’s the same way off the field, too.”
Dennion’s attitude has remained positive through the last few weeks, as has that of her teammates and coaches. The team hosted a St. Patrick’s Day-themed fundraiser March 15 with a band and friends to raise money for Dennion’s fund. Insley said, “Everyone knows that she’ll beat this.”
During the recent ice storm, Dennion lost power in her apartment, so she and her mother went to stay with Neal and his family. They spent time online watching donations pour in from people Dennion didn’t know, something Neal said was a touching experience.
“That was fantastic, watching her light up when she saw that. That made her smile big-time, knowing other people were jumping on board to support her,” Neal said.
To donate to “Kickin’ It With Colie!” please visit www.gofundme.com/7caql8 or call head coach Chris Neal at 278-6745.