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Look to your right. Look to your left. Look in the mirror. Odds are you’ve just connected to someone affected by cancer.
When Anthony Todaro decided to pledge his support to the HEADstrong Foundation, these were his own words he listed atop his fundraising campaign page. Todaro may only be a 16-year-old high school sophomore at Weddington High School in Matthews, North Carolina, but he’s no stranger to the ubiquity of cancer.
It’s exactly why Todaro instantly knew he wanted to help give back through lacrosse, the sport he loves so dearly.
“I’ve lost numerous family members to cancer,” Todaro said via video call from his home just outside Charlotte. “My Aunt Marie to breast cancer, my Uncle Tommy to colon cancer, my maternal grandfather, who I never got to meet, died a couple years before I was born from stomach cancer … I didn’t want to pass up this opportunity (to give back). So many kids are not blessed and fortunate enough to be able to play this sport the way I am, so it’s a motivator for me to give back in any way that I can.”
Todaro and his father, John, were watching the Patriot Cup between Yale and Villanova in February and heard HEADstrong President Cheryl Colleluori on the television broadcast informing the public of its opportunity to launch third-party fundraising campaigns. Instantly, Anthony’s ears perked up.
“I looked at my dad right away and told him how it would be a great way to give back playing my favorite sport,” Anthony said.
“He told me, ‘Dad, this is something I want to do,’” John Todaro recalled. “He hounded me about it the rest of that Saturday and all day Sunday to get on there and start the website. It’s been a fantastic experience, and Anthony is getting as much out of this — if not more — than the HEADstrong Foundation. Not only is he able to raise money and do the right thing, but it’s also been a tremendous experience for him as a young man. He just turned 16, and look at the life skills he’s gaining because of this program.”
Donors either pledged a flat dollar amount to Anthony’s campaign, or donated on a per-point basis based off his statistics on the lacrosse field. When all was said and done, Anthony tallied 114 points on the season, raising $1,792; in his final opportunity in the state championship game on May 18, Anthony posted 11 points, which matched his season high for most in a game. He was named MVP of the game, in addition to being selected first-team all conference and picking up Weddington’s Male Humanitarian Athlete of the Year award.
Todaro even challenged his local community on Twitter to join him next season, hoping to create a ripple effect and raise even more funds.
“Speaking of next season, I’d like to challenge my fellow laxers in the greater Charlotte area to join me and the @HEADstrongFnd in the fight against cancer next season!” he wrote on May 30. “We compete on the field, let’s also compete off the field to raise money for this fight! Who’s in? #4Nick”
While he never got a chance to meet HEADstrong founder Nick Colleluori, who passed away from non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2006, Anthony feels Nick’s spirit everywhere he goes, on and off the lacrosse field, a fact accentuated by the lime green HEADstrong wristband that adorns his wrist at all times.
It’s not only a reminder to Anthony of the importance of the cause, but also an opportunity to educate everyone he comes into contact with about Nick’s legacy, especially his fellow students at school.
“I’ve never taken the wristband off,” he said. “Even during games, I’ll look down and see it under my glove, and it motivates me. You realize that it’s about so much more than just lacrosse. It’s about life and philanthropy, not just yourself and how you’re feeling. It reminds me that there’s so much more than others are going through that I don’t even know about, so it teaches me to be selfless, try to help others and just be the best person I can be. If someone is going through something, you should try and help them, because I know I’d want someone to help me if I was going through the same ordeal.”
Todaro used the word “blessed” many times during the conversation, and said he gives thanks every day when he wakes up that he is able to pursue his hopes and dreams through the sport he loves. He wants to be a role model to others, in the same vein as Yale University senior lacrosse player Ben Reeves, who is studying to become an oncologist in the hopes of one day joining the fight to cure cancer.
“Of course, I want to play lacrosse in college, but I also want to attend the best school that can make me a better man, on and off the field,” Todaro said. “I want to excel in the classroom and play at the best academic institution possible.”
Todaro exhibits a maturity well beyond his 16 years, and his role as a HEADstrong ambassador has only strengthened his perspective. Even in death, he has identified with the legacy Nick Colleluori left behind. When he was alive, Colleluori always spoke about the sanctity of the brotherhood that the sport of lacrosse fosters, a message Todaro has received loud and clear.
“I’ve read and watched videos about Nick and saw the kind of person he was,” Todaro said. “Obviously he was a lacrosse player, but also a selfless person who recognized he was part of a brotherhood bigger than himself. I was thinking about that last night, how my team and I — how all of us — are all one big family. Any kid I can help through HEADstrong, I look at him as my brother. It’s amazing how a kid from Matthews, North Carolina, can do something for a foundation back in Pennsylvania through a sport that we all love.”
The HEADstrong Foundation is a 501(c)3 committed to improving lives affected by cancer, founded by the late Nicholas “HEAD” Colleluori. The non-profit organization plays a vital role as a direct resource to families overcome by the hardships of cancer. HEADstrong provides a variety of services, which range from financial assistance to funding capital projects to peer mentorship and, most notably, HEADstrong operates Nick’s House™, a guest family home providing more than 2,555 nights of complimentary lodging and support to families displaced in the pursuit of life-saving cancer treatment. Today, Nick’s vision is being fulfilled through the relentless efforts of his family, athletes and supporters across the country uniting in the fight against cancer. For more information on the HEADstrong Foundation™ and how to donate, host a fundraiser or volunteer, please visit www.HEADstrong.org.