Photo courtesy of AJ Gonzalez
AJ Gonzalez is an 17-year-old baseball player for Carmel High School (N.Y.), and for every run that the Rams score this spring, $1 per person who wants to pledge will be donated to the HEADstrong Foundation. Click here to support AJ this season!
AJ Gonzalez has dealt with cancer too often for someone who’s going into his senior season of high school baseball.
It’s not fair to him that he never got to meet his grandparents on his father Joe’s side. Before he was born, his grandfather passed away from liver cancer, while his grandmother succumbed to pancreatic cancer. He’s relegated to hearing stories about them from his dad, stories that leave him sad that he never got to meet his grandparents.
“They were both born in Puerto Rico, and they were very poor and didn’t have a lot when they came to the Bronx when they were about 18 years old,” Gonzalez said. “They were very strong people, though, with a lot of passion, and they had the drive that it took to be successful in the Bronx.”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. His brother’s best friend, Leah Cecchini, also fell victim to cancer and is now in remission, AJ started writing her name on his equipment to remember her. His experiences have molded him into who he is today, and that’s someone who constantly has others in mind ahead of himself.
His selflessness drove him to think about what he could do for others, and this spring, there will be a ton of people cheering for Carmel High’s (N.Y.) baseball team to have its best offensive season. For every run that the Rams score, $1 for every person who wants to pledge will be donated to the HEADstrong Foundation, which aims to improve lives affected by cancer. Click here to donate to AJ’s campaign.
“I wanted to get my high school team involved, and they thought it was a great idea and wanted to join in,” Gonzalez said. “We placed an order for T-shirts, too, and the next thing we want to do is to play a game for cancer awareness where both teams wear the shirts. We definitely need to find a cure for cancer, and with all of that research, we should be able to find a cure.”
Gonzalez, a 6-foot, 220-pound first and third baseman, is committed to play NCAA Division II baseball at Lincoln University. He doesn’t see his commitment to the HEADstrong Foundation or the cure for cancer as something that will stop after this season. Rather, he envisions his senior campaign as only a starting point to great possibilities.
“Nick Colleluori’s message really inspired me, and the HEADstrong Foundation has avery storied reputation and it’s going in the right direction as far as helping cancer patients and increasing cancer awareness. I want to be a part of HEADstrong when I get to college and I want to find a cure for cancer patients,” Gonzalez said. “Cancer is one of the worst diseases out there, and the fact that we haven’t found a cure for it is crazy to me. If we can get the support going now, we can make a lot of progress. I feel like we’ll be able to carry it over, and it’s definitely going to touch a lot of people.”
Gonzalez’s drive to make a difference in others’ lives isn’t lost on anyone at HEADstrong, least of all Cheryl Colleluori, the Foundation’s President and Nick’s mom. Her son’s tenacity and courage helped inspire so many, and that’s still true more than a decade after his passing. If anything, Nick’s impact is felt even more today.
“We’re honored and proud to work with AJ, and it’s surreal to see athletes from all over the country and different sports want to align themselves with HEADstrong because they believe in what we’re doing,” Colleluori said. “It’s exciting to have AJ so committed to the fight against cancer, especially at such a young age, and we look forward to working with him for so long.”
Warm up those bats, gentlemen. It’s hitting season.
For more information on the HEADstrong Foundation please visit www.HEADstrong.org.
About HEADstrong Foundation
The HEADstrong Foundation is a non-profit organization committed to improving lives affected by cancer. HEADstrong was founded by Nicholas Colleluori, a Division I athlete entering his sophomore year at Hofstra University when he was terminally diagnosed with cancer. His public fight from the sidelines captivated the nation and from his hospital bed he created an organization focused on empowering student-athletes to improve lives affected by the disease. His vision was simple yet critical; helping real families when they needed it most, providing support so that families may live with a greater dignity and normalcy. Colleluori fought to improve the inpatient experience, the affordability and accessibility of care and tackled the general concerns facing the patient population.
Understanding the ripple effect and impact that a cancer diagnosis had on a family, Colleluori championed efforts to support caregivers and capital projects to improve accommodations. He built an awareness platform driven by lime green shoelaces, the national awareness color for non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He empowered his own family and in the last days of his life asked them to pick up the ball where he left off. It’s a promise that the Colleluori family continues to fulfill through the essential programs and services offered by the HEADstrong Foundation, www.HEADstrong.org. HEADstrong invests more than $.90 of every dollar into a service offering 100% committed to improving the quality of life for families affected by cancer. HEADstrong grants financial assistance, funds projects to improve the inpatient experience, provides meals and outlets of entertainment, delivers comfort kits, peer support and most notably operates Nick’s House™, a haven of comfort for families seeking comprehensive cancer care.