PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Brown University women's basketball has officially signed Ellie Leo, a 12-year-old, seventh grade student from Norton, Mass., to its roster through a Team IMPACT Cystic Fibrosis Project "Draft Day" Sponsored by Vertex Pharmaceuticals, the Bears announced on Thursday night.
As part of a ceremony in the Pizzitola Sports Center's Joukowsky Room, Ellie – a high honors student who loves gymnastics, basketball, and art – signed an official Letter of Intent before her family and friends and received an authentic team jersey from the Bears.
"Today was very special. Ellie is a really special young lady who has joined our team," Brown head coach Sarah Behn said. "Our players have really rallied around Ellie and her family and welcomed them. Ellie is a remarkable kid with incredible courage, and now she plays for me."
Ellie started her relationship with the Brown women's basketball team in June 2017 and has loved getting to know the coaches and student-athletes on the team, while also expanding her knowledge of the game.
"Ellie is a great kid, and we are really excited to have her around our team," Brown junior Taylor Will said. "She just brings great energy. She is a really awesome person and inspires all of us."
Ellie lives with cystic fibrosis (CF) – a disease that primarily affects the lungs but also the digestive system and often the liver. Ellie swallows around 40 pills per day and spends a little over two hours of each day on treatments to help slow the progression of the disease. She is one of 30,000 patients in the United States living courageously with cystic fibrosis, a disease predominantly diagnosed in children by the age of two.
"She is a centerpiece," Brown freshman Savannah Lewis said. "It really means a lot to us. It shows that we are not just a team that plays basketball, but that we are a team with a heart that cares about our community."
Life expectancy for those affected by CF continues to increase. The median life expectancy for Ellie and children born in 2005 is 31 while it was announced this month that the median life expectancy for babies born in 2017 is 47. Ellie and her family anticipate continued advances as the CF Foundation fights to give CF patients longer and healthier lives.
Team IMPACT is a national nonprofit that connects children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses with the support system of a college sports team. Through the Team IMPACT CF Project sponsored by Vertex Pharmaceuticals, children who have CF, like Ellie, are drafted onto local college athletic teams and become an official member of the team to support the child's physical, social, and emotional needs. By being a part of the women's basketball program, Ellie will attend Bears' practices, games, team dinners, events, and more.
Since 2011, Team IMPACT has matched more than 1,300 children with more than 500 colleges and universities in 47 states, reaching over 35,000 participating student-athletes. The child joins the athletic team and the student-athletes join the child's support team – from Draft Day to Graduation. During the journey, the child gains strength, camaraderie, and support while the student-athletes experience lessons of courage, resiliency, and perspective they cannot learn in a classroom. Ellie's determination to persevere through adversity has already made her an inspiration to the rest of her Brown teammates.