Hartwick field hockey, toddler team up to take on cancer

Allison CollinsTrinity O'Connor, 3, picks dandelions in her Sidney front yard Thursday.

A Sidney toddler battling stage 4 neuroblastoma is getting a boost from Hartwick College field hockey players thanks to Friends of Jaclyn, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of pediatric brain tumors and childhood cancers.

The organization, based in Hopewell Junction, began in 2005 and facilitates “adoptions” between young cancer patients and their families and area sports teams. Trinity O’Connor, 3, will be adopted by the 24-person Hartwick team in an Aug. 19 ceremony at the college.

Friends of Jaclyn Executive Director Erin Stimson, previously of Franklin, said the organization has helped more than 850 children — about 80 to 100 kids each year, ages 2 through 15.

Generally, Stimson said, family-team matches are made after a family member registers the child with FoJ and then a sports team in the child’s area is found. Alternatively, she said, teams may register and, if there is not a child nearby, be placed on “standby.”

Stimson said she began working with the O’Connors after her mother shared the family’s social media posts in early June.

“We have teams and families all across the U.S. and Canada,” she said, “and it just so happened that there was this little girl near my hometown and it pulled at my mom’s heartstrings. My mom sent me the link, so I reached out to (Trinity’s mother) Brandy. We handle families immediately, so as soon as they registered with us, we started working on finding a team.”

Matchups, Stimson said, are based on making the greatest impact possible.

“It’s not about the sport or the school; it’s just about finding the team that understands the program and is going to be the best match,” she said. “Our tagline is ‘love, support and friendship,’ so whichever team we think is going be able to provide those key things is the team we’re going to prioritize.”

The adoption is “about building real relationship,” Stimson said.

"We hope that it provides (the children) with a pleasant distraction,” she said. “They get to go see their team and watch them play. A lot of these kids will never have the opportunity to play at a college level, but this gives them something to look forward to.

“Hopefully, they end up really becoming friends and family with this team, so that the family feels like it’s not battling this themselves,” Stimson said. “And it’s a perspective-changing opportunity for the team. That mile you have to run becomes a lot shorter when you’re doing it for this little girl battling cancer.”

Hartwick field hockey coach Erin Autera said, upon hearing from Stimson on July 16, she welcomed the chance to partner with the O’Connors.

“I just knew we definitely wanted to be a part of this,” she said. “I’ve had experience with cancer in my family and it’s not fun at all. It’s very challenging for everyone connected to it and knowing that our team could help Trinity in a small way or a big way, I wanted to be on board.”

Though players are not at the college through summer, Autera said, she shared the plans in a team email.

“They’re all so excited,” she said. “They’re planning to do fundraising on campus, T-shirts and they want to dedicate a game — they’re all about it. We’ve done fundraisers before for breast cancer … and it’s just something our team has always connected with. They’re a great group and I knew they would 100% want to be a part of this.”

Daniel O’Connor, Trinity’s father, said the team’s adoption of his daughter is an “uplifting” chapter in what he called “one heck of a journey.” Trinity was diagnosed in March 2018.

“It’s a great feeling that they’ve adopted Trinity,” he said. “It’s uplifting to see so many people actually care, and it shows that this world is not as negative as it seems at times. There are good things; for something so bad, there are still good outcomes.”

O’Connor said that while not yet a devout sports fan, Trinity is looking forward to the adoption ceremony.

“I don’t know if she really knows what field hockey is,” he said, “but we tell her everything that happens and she keeps saying, ‘I so excited to see.’”

Such optimism, O’Connor said, is typical from Trinity.

“Even on her worse day, there’s a smile,” he said. “She just takes it.”

According to a written statement from Brandy O’Connor, Trinity, whose cancer originated in her adrenal glands, has undergone multiple surgeries, two stem cell transplants, radiation, five rounds of chemotherapy, six cycles of immunotherapy and many blood and platelet transfusions. Pending the results of upcoming scans, O’Connor said, Trinity will likely head to Pennsylvania to participate in a drug trial. Her primary treatment is handled by Golisano Children’s Hospital of Syracuse.

For more information, visit friendsofjaclyn.org