January 22, 2011

Heart-Strong Mother, Lacrosse Brotherhood Make Headstrong Work

by Matt DaSilva | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Convention Live Blog

BALTIMORE -- The Headstrong Foundation tent, in all its neon green glory, was like a bug zapper Saturday for coaches, players and fans alike at the 2011 US Lacrosse National Convention, presented by Champion.

The convention opened its doors to the public for a four-hour window for Fan Fest, presented by ABC2 WMAR-TV. As Pat Colleuori peddled the foundation's wares to the masses with messages like "Be Relentless," his wife Cheryl and their sons Pat and Michael held court with throngs of well-wishers, potential donors and teammates of Nick Colleluori – their son and brother and the former Hofstra player who died in 2006 after a well-documented struggle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"Nick is the foundation," said Pat Colleluori Jr. "The future is how we can help others."

Good will, it turns out, spreads faster than cancer. And its Cheryl Colleuori's heart-strong approach that has made Headstrong so successful.

A full-time employee of Staples, Inc., managing sales teams nationwide, Cheryl Colleluori's work for the Headstrong Foundation, a non-profit organization, is entirely voluntary. But it demands full-time attention, thanks to the success of fundraising events like the Colleluori Classic -- a fall-ball event featuring top men's and women's lacrosse teams -- and the upcoming Lime Light Gala, a black tie-optional affair March 25 at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia.

That's not to mention the neon green apparel representing Nick's particular form of blood cancer and bearing the logo he designed, or generous donations from the lacrosse and philanthropic communities.

Cheryl Colleluori recalled a conversation she had with her son in the car when he was released from the hospital before he died.

"It was after doctors told us there was nothing more they could do. We couldn't believe it. He looked amazing," she said. "Pat [Sr.] was so upset, he couldn't drive. Nick told him, he said, 'Dad, you're not driving. Mom, you take us home.'"

Mother and son sat side-by-side, driver and passenger, as the son made his final wishes. There were three.

First, Nick wanted to be cremated and buried. Cheryl wears his urn as a locket around her neck today.

Second, he wanted a memorial, endowment scholarship at Hofstra to allow him to forever be connected to the team and his teammates.

Third, Nick Colleluori told his mom, "Take the Foundation where it needs to go."

"This is my brotherhood," he told her. "They won't turn their back on you."

Cheryl Colleluori, with husband Pat, addresses the crowd at the 2009 Nick Colleluori Classic, a fall lacrosse event and fundraiser for the Headstrong Foundation which raises funds for blood cancer research in honor of their son.

© Kevin P. Tucker

All proceeds for the Headstrong Foundation go to either blood cancer research or to help patients and their families cope with the emotional and financial burdens of the disease. Last Thanksgiving, Cheryl visited the University of Pennsylvania hospital's blood cancer ward where Nick received stem cell treatments and chemotherapy. It stretches four floors and 100 rooms, she said. Swaddled in protective clothing, mask included, she stopped in each room and provided a gift basket with Headstrong Foundation-designed blankets, lip balm and aloe tissues.

"That's all they wanted," said Pat Colleluori Sr. "Tissues and lip balm, because their skin and lips are so sensitive, burned by the chemicals."

One patient's family told Cheryl how mightily they struggled to pay the child's medical costs. Cheryl could relate. Nick didn't know it, but the Colleluori family was once so desperate to foot the bills for his treatments, their car insurance was cancelled.

Cheryl cut a check for the family, no further questions asked.

The Colleluori family story has gone mainstream. Esteemed sports media outlets like ESPN and MSG have already chronicled Nick's courageous fight with cancer. The family was recently pitched a screenplay that could take it to Hollywood.

You wouldn't know it, the way Cheryl, Pat, Pat Jr. and Michael humbly entertained the masses Saturday. They call themselves a blue-collar family. The Headstrong Foundation continues to operate out of their home in Holmes, Pa. They want to share their story and Nick's legacy.

A legacy that will likely outlive all of them.



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