Fight for Life program pairs pediatric cancer patients with Notre Dame Athletics teams

Author: Erin Blasko

Charlie Meyers

He cannot grow a beard — yet — but of the four University of Notre Dame leprechauns, Charlie Meyers is, by far, the closest in height to the mythical Irish fairy, which serves as the University’s official mascot.

The 5-year-old South Bend resident became the newest, and youngest, member of the squad during the Fighting Irish Fight for Life Signing Ceremony Wednesday, Sept. 27, at Club Naimoli at Purcell Pavilion.

Organized by Student Welfare and Development, a division of Notre Dame Athletics, Fighting Irish Fight for Life pairs pediatric cancer patients from Beacon Children’s Hospital with Notre Dame Athletics teams, from football and basketball to soccer and tennis.

As honorary team members, the patients — ranging from toddlers to teens — attend competitions and other events and otherwise interact with the student athletes throughout the academic year.

The teams host a Christmas party for the kids in December.

Charlie, who was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 3 and is now two-plus years into treatment, was a member of the Notre Dame women’s tennis team last year, his mother, Lauren Meyers, said.

This year, “As soon as he found out he was a leprechaun, he started watching all of the games and doing the fist pose,” she said, referring to the mascot’s trademark pose — arms bent, fists up like an old-time boxer.

Completing the look, Charlie wore an Irish country hat to the signing ceremony.

This is the first year the leprechaun squad, part of the larger Notre Dame cheerleading team, has participated in Fight for Life.

“It’s something fun for him to look forward to, and it just makes him feel special,” Lauren Meyers said of Charlie’s membership with the team.

In an unfortunate twist of fate, Charlie’s father, Thomas Meyers, a doctoral student at Notre Dame, battled the same cancer at the age of 12.

“These guys have been outstanding to him,” Thomas Meyers said of the athletes. “The humility of so many of the athletes who are willing to come meet so many people in the community, it’s just unparalleled.”

Seniors Bo Brauer, a forward on the Notre Dame hockey team, and Tyler Newsome, a punter on the football team, emceed the signing ceremony, which included food and games.

“Charlie, say ‘Go Irish!’” Newsome prodded during Charlie’s turn on stage.

“No,” Charlie responded. “I have nothing to say!”

Addressing his fellow student-athletes, Joe Fennessy, one of the official leprechauns, said, “We’re excited. Charlie’s going to be at soccer, golf, fencing, swimming, basketball. He’ll be at all of your games.”

Added Charlie, “And kickball.”

In total, 13 kids signed with 18 teams.

That included Ashley Arriola, 5, who signed with the men’s tennis team.

“Ashley’s just got so much heart, so much fight,” a player said. “I think she’s really going to bring the team together as a whole, so we’re really looking forward to that.”

Ashley wore a comfortable dress to the ceremony. Her brown hair was short and thin from chemotherapy, but she managed a smile.

“I think she will have fun with the team,” her sister, Kimberly Arriola, said. “I think they are very nice.”

“I’m happy,” her father, Rubin Arriola, said in Spanish. Kimberly translated for him.

The team gifted Ashley a Notre Dame t-shirt before leaving the stage.

According to Katie McLean, program coordinator for Student Welfare and Development, such gestures — small but memorable — speak to the spirit of Fight for Life, which is now in its 11th year.

“Fighting Irish Fight for Life gives our student-athletes an opportunity to connect with children from Beacon Children’s Hospital and find creative ways to hang out with their new ‘teammate’ throughout the year,” McLean said. “Not only do the children have fun spending time with Notre Dame student-athletes, our student-athletes have a blast as well.

She added, “It's easy for student-athletes, and people in general, to be so wrapped up in the day-to-day responsibilities, and opportunities like this really help bring a sense of joy, perspective and purpose to everyone involved.”