Written by Erin Dunne, Athletics Media Relations Student Intern

Every team has its standout athletes - the heroes of the game who drive the play, push the intensity of the defense or offense, and rally the rest of the team to maximum performance. In order to be a standout on the field, one must typically possess an impressive statistical record or unique technique on the field. But maybe, in order to be a hero on a team, one doesn’t always need to be the best of their kind or even have played at all.

Among many noteworthy athletes, the University of Delaware women’s lacrosse team has one special hero on their team: 13-year-old childhood cancer survivor Abby Supplee, whom the team adopted in collaboration with University of Delaware’s school dance marathon, UDance, and have dedicated their 2015 season to.

This 12-hour dance marathon benefits the Andrew McDonough B+ (Be Positive) Foundation, which dedicates its mission to helping families whose children are battling all types of childhood cancer through financial assistance as well as funding hospital research for cures and different chemotherapy.

Abby’s story begins when she was diagnosed with Leukemia at the age of four and spent the next two and a half years in intensive chemotherapy treatment.

She has been in remission officially since 2007 and joined the lacrosse team’s story, as their sponsored B+ “hero,” in 2011.

The “hero” figures of UDance represent all children who have battled or are still battling childhood cancer.  Different groups across campus are able to support their adopted “hero” during the time of UDance.

However, the team’s bond with Abby runs far beyond UDance, creating a connection that has been more powerful than the team or Abby herself would have anticipated when they began this journey together five years ago.

As the first sports team to adopt a hero from the B+ Foundation, the women’s lacrosse squad has paved the way for fellow teams or student organizations by the examples of love, support, and strong bonds between the players and Abby.

“The University of Delaware women’s lacrosse team was the first group of athletes to have a B+ Hero,” stated Joe McDonough, founder and head of the B+ Foundation. “They could very easily have just gone through the motions but they set the bar high, they embraced the notion that Abby Supplee, a child who had cancer, was really, truly, one of their team members. They have made her feel so special.”

Other teams at the University of Delaware have since followed suit and adopted their own heroes to expand the cause throughout athletic life on campus.

“It’s so cool that we, as a team, have been able to take this on, and build it into the athletic community, so that it not only strengthens us as a team, but also as a campus, which means so much to my team,” exclaimed women’s lacrosse junior Elyse Andrews.

Spending the last five years together, the team and Abby have both mutually benefitted from the relationship they share on and off the field. Abby has her own locker in the locker room, complete with her own lacrosse stick and number, travels with the team to select games, and has attended several practices.

Additionally, the team hosts dinners, goes on apple picking trips, and bakes with Abby. In turn, Abby serves as a source of inspiration for the Blue Hen student-athletes in their daily lives.

“What is most amazing is the power of influence on the human spirit,” explains head coach Kateri Linville. “That has been the coolest thing in the journey to see as a coach. Both the team and Abby are empowered and have benefitted from the relationship. She is as much a part of the team as any one of our players.”

Both parties view one another as an important part of their lives, a crutch to lean on when life seems hard, creating heroes of one another.

For Abby, having essentially a couple of dozen adopted older sisters, she has been able to grow into herself and develop into a young woman who is no longer shy about the battles she has faced.

“She’s gotten more confident in being able to speak about being a cancer survivor,” Abby’s father, Tim, shares. “She was embarrassed about it before and afraid people would think differently of her having had cancer in the past. She can speak proudly about it and she knows that she was able to beat it, that it was a hard thing for her to do, and she’s been able to talk to other people in treatment and really be a good resource for them.”

“I’m definitely more comfortable talking about things,” remarked Abby. “I know that I am who I am for a reason; they let me express who I am without making me feel like I should be someone else.”

She adds, “They have played a big part of my life and they made me feel like family.”

As this five-year journey continues, the team continues to view Abby as a source of inspiration even in its daily play.

Andrews explains that during tough practices, a bad game, or a particularly hard run test, the team will dedicate a portion of their fight to Abby to remind them that some battles are small in comparison to others.

“All the positivity and strength she has makes me want to be a better person,” Andrews mentions. “When practice isn’t going so well and I’m getting in a bad mood, I need to just be positive and not only help myself, but the teammates around me.”

Linville explains, “Five years later, Abby has had an impact on all of our student-athletes, on our Delaware story.”

While the UD athletes are all significantly older than Abby, it doesn’t stop them from looking up to her as a source of inspiration and a reminder to put things into perspective when life or the game isn’t going their way.

As the Blue Hens continue their on-field battles against other teams and gain momentum in their 2015 championship journey, they will be keeping Abby’s battle in their hearts, reminding them of the importance of life’s other battles, ones that exist outside of the realm of sports. Something all teams can find common ground on, no matter the uniform.