HARRISONBURG, Va.—In October 2011, James Madison’s lacrosse team traveled to Gainesville, Va. to officially adopt the then nine-year-old, Elle Howdershell, a participant of the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation. In the two years since they first met, Elle and the Howdershell family have made a positive impact on the team.
“It took us two years to find Elle after searching local hospitals high and low for a family that, not only wanted to work with Friends of Jaclyn, but also allow their family into our hearts,” head coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe remembered. “Right away, we knew it was meant to be with Elle and the Howdershells.”
Since the adoption in 2011, the lacrosse team has enjoyed visiting Elle and her family and showering them with gifts such as JMU posters, flowers and pink lacrosse gear [because it was Elle’s favorite color]. The team has also held two pink-themed Friends of Jaclyn games to help raise money for the organization.
“Elle was a constant reminder to all of us of how precious life is,” senior Leah Perrotta said. “She also served as an inspiration because her strength and courage was unlike anything I have ever seen. I feel blessed to have known the Howdershell family and Elle because they have truly had an impact on me and inspired me to enjoy every second life has to offer.”
At the age of five, Elle was diagnosed with a brain tumor. This led the Howdershell family to the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, a New York-based organization that pairs children with pediatric brain tumors and collegiate athletic teams. The group’s mission is to help improve the quality of life of children and their families battling pediatric brain tumors by providing them with dedicated student athletes and coaches who give love, support and friendship to the child.
This fall, senior Mary Jane Toohey and three of her teammates traveled to Gainesville to spend a Sunday with the Howdershell family and to play lacrosse with the kids. A few weeks later, Elle was admitted to Georgetown’ Pediatric Cancer Center. The team decked out in pink to visit her.
When speaking of Elle, Toohey said, “For me, Elle was bigger than life. She was what kept me grounded during my first three years as a member of the JMU lacrosse team. She reminded me that just being alive was a blessing, let alone being healthy and athletic. For our team, Elle reminded us not to take our opportunities for granted. Every hard run test, intense lifting session, and freezing cold practice somehow felt like nothing when we knew that Elle was fighting for her life at such a young age.”
On Oct. 12, Elle lost her battle with cancer. The Dukes plan to continue their relationship with Elle’s parents and her three siblings. Mr. Howdershell and one of Elle’s siblings will be visiting JMU on Nov. 16 for the football game against Stony Brook. The lacrosse team will also honor Elle’s fight with a team award to be given out each year at the annual banquet.
“The Howdershell family as a whole is the strongest group of people I have ever met,” Perrotta said. “Their positive outlook on life has been contagious and our entire team has grown just from knowing them and being in their presence.”