July 15, 2014
"Hi, I'm Ciara. I have diabetes."
That was the introduction a precocious Ciara Cooke, then a four-year-old, made to South Carolina offensive lineman A.J. Cann last year at a Gamecock Equestrian event they were both attending. From there a relationship grew and spread to other South Carolina student-athletes, culminating in a surprise send-off party Monday at the Volleyball Competition Facility for the now five-year-old who is on her way from her home in nearby Irmo to visit Disney World in Orlando, FL, courtesy of the Kids Wish Network.
Ciara was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of two and also battles against epilepsy. The Kids Wish Network (KWN) is a Florida-based charitable organization dedicated to infusing hope, creating happy memories and improving the quality of life for children facing life-altering circumstances.
"It's important to get the word out. It's good for people to see that it doesn't have to hold you back."
-Kicker Elliott Fry
"She's gone through a lot," Cann said. "She's definitely an inspiration. I just wanted to be here for her."
In addition to Cann, sophomore placekicker Elliott Fry, who was diagnosed with diabetes at age seven, members of the volleyball team, baseball team and cheerleaders were in attendance to show their support as she gets ready for her special trip.
"I don't think people understand the danger and severity involved with diabetes," Fry said. "It's important to get the word out. It's good for people to see that it doesn't have to hold you back. It's out there and it causes problems, but in another sense it's empowering to know there are people out there living with it and doing everyday things."
Ciara has been hospitalized six times since her initial diagnosis, and a severe seizure several months ago left her unresponsive for more than 24 hours. After pulling through that scare, she continues to be a talkative little girl who loves sports and Disney cartoons.
"Ciara is a very brave and inspirational girl," said KWN Public Relations Specialist Sarah DuPree. "She's very knowledgeable and aware of her illness, and she takes really good care of herself. She's just so out-going and full of life so we wanted to make this as special as we can for her."
Carolina student-athletes send off Ciara to her Kids Wish Network trip to Disney World on July 14, 2014.
"The participation by student-athletes in these types of events is so important, not only for the families, but also for our student-athletes," said Erica Nelson, South Carolina's Director of Life Skills and Community Outreach. "It gives them a chance to connect with a young fan who may not ordinarily get to meet them, and hopefully offer some inspiration during tough times. It also gives the student-athletes perspective on how blessed they are. Student-athletes often leave an event thankful for the opportunity to participate."
For information on the Kids Wish Network, visit www.kidswishnetwork.org.