11-Year-Old with Cystic Fibrosis Joins Team Sports for the First Time Through the Vertex Team IMPACT CF Project
Raven Stewart gains friendship and support as an honorary member of the CSDH Toros softball team
Raven Stewart and her two older brothers, Zoen and Deven, have never been able to play on traditional sport teams. All three have cystic fibrosis (CF), and frequent hospitalizations have made it challenging for them to consistently participate for an entire season.
So Raven, who is 11 years old, was thrilled to become an honorary member of the Cal State Dominguez Hills (CSDH) women’s softball team, known as the Toros, through Team IMPACT.
The program is sponsored by Vertex and matches children with diseases like CF with college athletic teams.
Raven wasn’t immediately able to join in the team’s activities. Shortly after she met her new teammates for the first time, she fell ill and was hospitalized.
Not to be deterred from welcoming Raven to the Toros, CSDH Head Softball Coach Kim Aggabao and a contingent of softball players, made three different trips to visit her in the hospital, bringing with them stacks of board games.
“The first time we met her, she was just a ball of joy,” said Coach Aggabao. “She was smiling and laughing, and she loved our players and they loved her. When we went to see her in the hospital, watching her smile again warmed our hearts.”
Once Raven recovered, the Toros held a draft day, officially signing her to the team. With her family and friends in attendance, they provided her with her own team gear and softball glove. They also created a new set of t-shirts with “Team Raven” printed on the back.
“It’s been a great experience so far,” said Raven, who plans to attend softball practices and games regularly once the softball season begins. “It’s really fun and I would recommend the program to anyone like me and my brothers who aren’t able to join a regular sports team.”
Raven’s mother, Marisa Stewart, is a school principal who advocates for children with special needs to be integrated into the classroom. Because of this, she is particularly appreciative of Team IMPACT’s efforts to help scholar-athletes interact and learn from children dealing with difficult diseases. She says that she has been overwhelmed by the support and caring the team has shown to her youngest child.
“I feel so much compassion and empathy from Coach Aggabao,” she said.” This isn’t something her team has to do, this is extra. I am a full believer in this program. Having healthy, positive people who are there to support you – it’s the best thing.”
Raising three children with cystic fibrosis can be challenging, Marisa said, and shapes the family’s day-to-day routines.
“We call ourselves the Stewart Militia, she said. “We feel like we’re in a battle all the time, and we just have to come out on top.”
Marisa is happy to see the Stewart Militia is growing.
“It’s hard for me to not always be with Raven,” she said. “She has been sick a lot, and I try to be with her as much as possible. To know she had visitors during her last hospitalization and to feel that she was really being supported was just amazing.”
“Our goal is helping Raven to have more bright days than she does tough days,” said Coach Aggabao. “We want her to know that she now has 21 other sisters to talk to whenever she wants to, and that she can reach out to us for whatever she needs.”