NEWS, NOTES &
The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
By Bethany Bradsher
Riley's Army looking for
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Rob Donnenwirth once coached Riley Philpot on a youth soccer team, and he
knew her as a great kid who loved soccer. Then he heard about Riley’s
cancer, which led to chemotherapy and surgeries.
But he still kept seeing
her in a soccer uniform, flying down the field.
“Just seeing her on the
soccer field with the bald head and everything else, it’s just amazing to
see her keep going,” said Donnenwirth, East Carolina’s head soccer coach.
In the three years since
Riley’s diagnosis, several of the Lady Pirates have gotten to know her, too,
at ECU soccer camps in the summer or when she has attended their games. A
few have even visited Riley at the hospital.
When an opportunity arose
to do something for Riley and other children who battle cancer, the soccer
players didn’t hesitate.
Previously the team wore
pink wristbands to honor Riley during games, because pink is Riley's
favorite color. So for Friday’s Conference USA opener against Rice, they
will take it a step further and play the game in pink jerseys.
During the game, in a
silent auction, those jerseys will be auctioned off to raise money for
Riley’s Army, the organization started by Riley’s family to support other
victims of childhood cancer.
“I think it’s just the
right thing to do,” Donnenwirth said.
Greenville physicians Kirk and Kelly Philpot, just heard about the ECU
soccer project less than a week ago, but the family will be there in full
force on Friday, Kelly Philpot said. She is sure that the game and the
excitement surrounding the pink jerseys will be an encouragement for Riley,
who just had surgery on August 31 to remove a malignant mass on her lung.
Through a rollercoaster
ride that started in 2006 when doctors confirmed a five-pound Wilms tumor on
Riley’s right lung, the Philpot family has endured two surgeries, two
different chemotherapy regimens and one course of radiation. Riley returned
to school about two weeks ago after the latest surgery, and through it all
she has played soccer whenever her platelet levels were high enough for her
to get a green light.
“Some people think we’re
crazy keeping her involved in it, but for her it’s given her something to do
that’s normal,” Kelly Philpot said. “It’s helped keep her normal through all
The Philpots founded
Riley’s Army after Riley relapsed the first time and the family experienced
an outpouring of love and help from friends. Riley has two younger sisters
and a younger brother, and the family needed plenty of support to help
maintain routine for their younger children and allow them to be with Riley
whenever they needed to.
Through that ordeal, the
Philpots realized that every family who contends with childhood cancer
needed an army like the one they had, so they started an organization
devoted to that goal. The group’s website organizes and promotes events like
Friday’s soccer game and an upcoming picnic for any family with a current or
former pediatric oncology patient.
“We’re thankful that so
many others are getting the support that we had,” said Kelly Philpot. “Until
it hits home and you experience it, you can’t even explain what it’s like.”
For those who want to
come watch the Pirates and support Riley’s Army, the game and the silent
auction start at 4 p.m. The bidding for the pink jerseys will close with
five minutes remaining in the second half, and the winners will be awarded
their jerseys after the game.
Riley hopes to get a pink
jersey of her own on Friday, and she will certainly be ready to stand in if
the Lady Pirates need a spare player. She went back out and played soccer
just two and a half weeks after her last surgery, and between the Pirates
and her own team she will spend the fall saturated in her favorite sport.
And the soccer team hopes
that when they share Riley’s story with their home crowd, they will strike a
blow in the battle against childhood cancer and remind Riley of how special
she is to them.
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09/23/2009 02:49 AM