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Ellie Goldman, the University of Buffalo’s Youngest Diver, Is More Than Just a Little Girl With Cystic Fibrosis

Ellie was drafted to join the UB Bulls’ diving team through the Team IMPACT CF Project 

Six-year-old Ellie Goldman has always received lots of attention – from her parents and her two older sisters, from the doctors who treat her cystic fibrosis (CF), and from a range of other caregivers tasked with keeping her safe and healthy. 

But her mother, Cass Goldman, wanted her daughter to feel that people saw her as more than just a little girl with CF.

“I really wanted her to receive positive attention for what she is capable of achieving, rather than for the fact that she has a serious disease,” she said.

So when she learned of the Team Impact CF Project, a program sponsored by Vertex that matches courageous children with diseases like CF with college athletic teams, she jumped at the chance to enroll her daughter in a program that would enable her to join a supportive team environment. A former college swimmer, Cass was even more thrilled when she heard that Ellie was to be matched with the University of Buffalo diving team.

“I remember the feeling of bonding with my team on the deck. It’s how I grew as a person,” she said. “The smell of chlorine is so distinct and brings back great memories. I hoped it would really benefit her to watch the team push through when the going gets tough.”

As a member of the diving team, Ellie attends practices and meets, and frequently splashes in the pool with her new teammates, said Head Diving Coach Russ Dekker. Some of the divers work with her on her swimming skills, and they have begun to teach her to dive. In addition, they often bring Ellie and her family, including her two older sisters, Bella and Bailee, to events outside of the pool, such as team tailgates, banquets, and football and basketball games.

At meets, when the team forms a circle to do a cheer, Ellie stands in the middle and yells louder than anyone else.

“When we see Ellie, she’s always smiling and she’s always happy,” Coach Dekker said. “Her positivity is infectious. She’s our biggest cheerleader and supporter on the pool deck.”

He said that Ellie’s impact on the team has been enormous, but hopes his divers have had a positive impact on Ellie, as well.

“We want her to feel that she has 50 new friends who care about her as a person – not who feel sorry for her because she is sick,” he said. “Friends who like to spend time with her, who want to play in the pool with her, or who want to sit with her at a basketball game. And we hope this is a relationship that continues year after year.”

As for Cass, she is thrilled to watch her daughter grow as she forms lasting bonds with Buffalo’s divers.

“What I really wanted out of this program is happening,” she said. “Ellie is able to conquer her fears, to develop confidence in herself, and most of all to receive love and attention from people who care about her, that isn’t centered on the fact that she has cystic fibrosis.”

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