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DeLucia, Eden Dolphins prepare to swim in Carly’s Crossing as ‘Dolphins for DeLucia’

Ellie DeLucia wrote a letter to her Eden Dolphins swim club that was posted on the team’s website, edendolphins.org, on July 21. In the note, DeLucia mentioned how Liz Kisker, a fellow Dolphin, and Ben Kisker, joined her in the open swim that is Carly’s Crossing last summer.

Carly’s Crossing is a branch of Carly’s Club, a Roswell Park Cancer Institute organization that has helped DeLucia and her family throughout the years. She wanted nothing more than to be a part of the swim again this summer.

“We participated in Carly’s Crossing and had a blast,” DeLucia wrote in her letter to her team. “This year, we thought it would be great to form a team with our teammates from the Eden Dolphins, and I hope you will consider joining us as we support this great cause!”

While DeLucia participated in last year’s swim in support of Carly’s Club and other children with pediatric cancer that the organization is helpful to, she will be side-by-side with her Dolphin teammates this time around on Aug. 10 at Gallagher Beach as they all will be swimming to support her with the team name “Dolphins for DeLucia”.

“I’m definitely less nervous this year now since I know what to expect, but I’m really excited,” she said. “I think it will be a lot more fun since the team is swimming with me.”

DeLucia, a 13-year-old who is entering eighth grade at Hamburg Middle School, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, which has weakened her vision, 10 years ago. She actually met Liz Kisker through Kisker’s mother while receiving treatment at Roswell.

“When I was 3 my parents started noticing I was holding books a lot closer to my face and I was sitting a lot closer to the TV, so they took me to an eye doctor and he noticed there was a bigger problem than just needing glasses,” said DeLucia.

A brain tumor was found by an MRI when Brooke and Steve DeLucia, Ellie’s parents, took her to Children’s Hospital, but surgery was very risky as the tumor was found in the middle of her head, right behind her eyes.

She has been on and off of chemotherapy treatment for 10 years now, but her condition never stopped DeLucia from doing what she loved, as DeLucia is also a modified cross country and track and field athlete at Hamburg Middle School.

“It’s amazing that she ended up in this sport,” said Chris Nellis, who coaches DeLucia with the Eden Dolphins. “Not only is this one of the hardest sports on the planet to train for, then you throw an inoperable cancer in there, that’s how hard it is for her.”

Nellis and DeLucia have history beyond the Dolphins, as Nellis’ wife works with DeLucia’s father at Orchard Park Middle School. He’d pick up DeLucia, who was a toddler at the time, from the youth center and bring her home to do dinner and finish her homework before taking her to the pool as he coached.

When DeLucia and Liz Kisker came back from Carly’s Crossing last year, they told Nellis about their experience, helping to organize a swim of their own for the 2014 event. And DeLucia couldn’t be happier.

“She’s such a special part of our team…she deserves this,” said Marissa Kordal, DeLucia’s club teammate that is headed into her sophomore year at Eden. “She’s worked so hard for everything. She’s a sweetheart and she does everything she’s supposed to.”

“It boosts her morale,” Nellis said about the Dolphins’ participation in Carly’s Crossing. “A lot of times, kids don’t want to say anything because they don’t want to be treated differently. Our team treats her like anyone else, but when she sees we’re totally behind this, it just lifts her spirits. I’m hoping it keeps her here until she doesn’t want to swim anymore.”

The one thing DeLucia tries to avoid is being treated differently because of her condition. But her teammates claim that people not close to her wouldn’t know because of her personality. She is as bubbly on a normal day just as she is after coming to practice from therapy, which gave Nellis the idea to nickname DeLucia “SunnyD”.

“You’d never know because she’s always smiling and cracking jokes,” Nellis said. “I’ve never once heard her complain, never heard her say she’s in pain. I’ve given her so many rides to practice and I never heard her once say practice or life stinks. Never. She’s definitely a blessing.”

The Dolphins are very helpful to DeLucia in the pool, letting her know when to go and where she is in the pool since she has trouble seeing the clock, scoreboard and numbers on the pool.

“You can’t be afraid to let a disability hold you back from doing something that you want to do, and you can’t be afraid to ask for modifications,” DeLucia said. “For me, it’s hard over the past 10 years trying to ask for help and wanting to be independent. I usually try to cover up because I’m embarrassed.

“But if you really want to continue with it, sometimes you need help. And honestly, once I asked them to tell me the times or tell me when to start, it’s so much easier and it’s great.”

It has been about five years since DeLucia joined the Eden Dolphins and this weekend will mark the first time they will swim at Carly’s Crossing as a team. But no matter what happens, this will not be the only time for Dolphins for DeLucia to participate.

“The sad part about Ellie is that she’s not supposed to be here right now. She was not supposed to make it to age 13,” Nellis said. “So now that it’s in that scary, what’s-going-to-happen area, our club is like ‘We can’t let this go. It can’t be an afterthought.’

“So now our club forever will be, even if the worst happens, linked to Carly’s Crossing. And I know for a fact that there will always be ‘Dolphins for DeLucia’ at Carly’s Crossing.”
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