"Friends of Jaclyn" Takes Amherst by Storm

Student-athletes from various schools and varsity teams came to Amherst College to help kick off the inaugural Friends of Jaclyn Race/Walk.

by Justin Long

AMHERST, MA – Hundreds gathered at Amherst College’s Alumni Gymnasium this past Sunday to jumpstart the inaugural “Friends of Jaclyn Race/Walk,” an event run by student-athletes with 100 percent of the profits and donations going to the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation.

Friends of Jaclyn arrived at Amherst in the fall of 2007 when the men’s soccer team adopted Michael Lanosa, a nine-year old boy with a brain tumor. One year later, four Amherst varsity teams—and 39 other varsity teams in the country—have adopted children in an effort to support the Foundation.

Last spring, in an effort to merge the Western Mass. community with the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, former UMass-Amherst field hockey player Erin O'Brien deputized coaches and student-athletes from UMass, Amherst College, UConn and Mount Holyoke College to create the Race/Walk.

Teams from Amherst, Mount Holyoke, Connecticut and Williams colleges, UMass and UConn gathered Sunday at 10 a.m. for a pre-race rally. Amherst head men’s soccer coach Justin Serpone welcomed everyone and thanked those who helped make the day’s events possible, noting the significance of “coming together, being like-minded and joining people who share passion for such a great cause.”

Denis Murphy—founder of the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation and father of Jaclyn Murphy—addressed the student-athletes with a clear message. “Watching a child suffer is absolute torture, but you student-athletes give parents like me a gift. This foundation is about love, support and friendship—not about which teams are adopting which kids. We’re here to say ‘thank you’.”

Murphy added that the teams gathered at Amherst Sunday morning were epitomizing the National Collegiate Athletics Association’s mission statement, which states, “The NCAA shares a belief in and commitment to the supporting role that intercollegiate athletics plays in the higher education mission and in enhancing the sense of community and strengthening the identity of member institutions.”

Keynote speakers included John Pistel, brain tumor survivor and Amherst College senior development officer for principal gifts. Pistel’s message to the student-athletes was short and sweet: “There may be no greater reward for you than a child’s smile.”

At 11 a.m. participants made their way to Amherst’s Memorial Hill. Two hundred twenty student-athletes, coaches, parents and casual runners lined up for the 5K race, with roughly another 75 individuals taking part in the one-mile walk. Jaclyn awaited the runners at the finish line and presented the top three male finishers and top three female finishers with medals.

Medals were also presented to O’Brien and to each of the adopted children and their siblings—individuals who were described by Denis Murphy as “heroes”. Teams posed for pictures and participants congratulated each other on what was an incredibly successful event, as the student-athletes parted ways and wrapped up what is hoped to be the first of many such events.

After completing the 5K race, the Amherst men's lacrosse team took time to pose with the newest member of its squad, 19-year-old Justin Hinds.

The Race/Walk was just the beginning for 19-year old Justin Hinds, who officially became a member of Amherst’s men’s lacrosse team Sunday afternoon. Hinds walked into Amherst’s Conway Classroom and enthusiastically dished out high fives to each and every Lord Jeff.

According to Hinds’ mother, Athena, getting the opportunity to spend time with people his own age will be extremely beneficial to Justin, who has been set back in school three times due to chemotherapy and surgery. Just four weeks ago, he received news that his tumor is growing and that chemotherapy will once again be necessary.

Despite his misfortunes, Hinds relayed his positive attitude to the Amherst men’s lacrosse team. “Having a brain tumor is nothing,” Hinds told his new teammates. “I might have to go through treatments, but I have so many people to help me. I have you guys. You’re already my friends, and I don’t even know all of you yet. Thank you for everything.”

Men’s lacrosse head coach Tom Carmean—who donated an extraordinary amount of time toward ensuring the success of the Race/Walk—stressed to his players the importance of perspective. “When you’re working out or practicing this year,” he told his team, “work harder for Justin.”

Murphy added, “If you think you’re having a tough day or a tough practice, just think of Justin. You’ll be okay.”

The team’s adoption even drew some of Carmean’s former players, including T.J. Jackson ’08. “I couldn’t miss something so special,” says Jackson. “I wanted to be a part of this with my friends and former teammates. It’s great to be here at the beginning of all of this, and I wish we had the chance to be a part of it while I was a student.”

“All of the credit goes to Denis and the student-athletes,” says Suzanne Coffey, Amherst’s Director of Athletics. “For the number of varsity teams adopting children to increase from 20 to 43 in a span of only a few months is remarkable. For our student-athletes to have the opportunity to learn from and be around such great role models—you can’t ask for anything better.”

“Suzanne has pushed this department to embrace community engagement,” says Serpone. “This is just one of the many fantastic things going on from team to team.”

“I’m sure when Denis and Jaclyn first started the Foundation they had no idea of the extent to which they would affect so many so lives so quickly,” says Amherst field hockey coach Carol Knerr. “To see so many supporters huddled together by Memorial Hill was really powerful, and I’m excited to watch the Foundation grow.”

Murphy was pleased to announce that the success of the Race/Walk exceeded his expectations. “The student-athletes have no idea what they’re doing for us,” he said. “Nothing—no chemotherapy, no pill, no drug—is more powerful than love and support.”

For more information regarding the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, please visit www.friendsofjaclyn.org.

View a photo gallery from the inaugural Friends of Jaclyn Race/Walk. Special thanks to Thom Kendall and Erik Andrews '09 for generously donating their time on Sunday morning.