Holmes, PA – When Nick Colleluori was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in September of 2005, he channeled his inner athlete to tackle the disease. At just 19 years old, standing 5’9” and 170-pounds, the undersized defensive lineman from Ridley High School known for his tenacity, aggressiveness and relentless attitude on the playing field was now facing his toughest opponent. And just like he once did on the playing field, Colleluori defied the odds, focusing his attention and energy during treatments on creating a non-profit organization to improve quality of life for other patients and their families while uniting athletes nationwide in the fight against cancer. From his hospital bed the HEADstrong Foundation™ was born.
Just 12 months prior to his diagnosis, Colleluori received the 2004 Hank Fraley Award, (Fraley was a former Philadelphia Eagles Center), presented to a high school football player in the Philadelphia area gaining the most from their abilities. #56 was known for terrorizing quarterbacks and running backs during his playing career at Ridley and it was his mind-over-matter mentality that allowed him to rise above adversity, which unknowingly prepared him for his battle against cancer.
“I had the privilege of chronicling Nick’s career on video and time and time again, he would make a play that you would have to watch over and over again.” One of my lasting vivid images was in a game against Penn Wood, with the Patriots in punt formation near their own goal line, Nick shot through the line, blocked the punt and then crawled relentlessly to make the recovery for a touchdown,” said Mike Iannacci, Former Teacher.
Despite being a young adult facing a terminal diagnosis, with uncertainties surrounding his future, amounting medical expenses, lengthy hospital stays, physical and emotional anguish, it was the struggles and sacrifices of his family that troubled Colleluori most. Throughout it all he believed that his journey could assist others, so he began chronicling his experience to assure others affected that they were not alone. He began counseling patients; he raised funds to purchase beds for caregivers and designed a multi-entertainment unit to provide inpatients with a temporary escape and outlet of entertainment.
While enduring a 40-day inpatient stay at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania to undergo an autologous stem cell transplant, Colleluori began to strategize and develop an awareness item to unite athletes in the fight the against cancer. He realized that he was one of the youngest patients on his floor and rather than wallow in pity or fear, Colleluori was determined to use his youthful spirit as motivation for creating an awareness symbol that sparked the HEADstrong Foundation™: lime green shoelaces.
Lime green is the national awareness color for non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and Colleluori believed that the color’s vibrancy paired with its significance would make a powerful statement on the playing field—and it did. Colleluori publicly championed the mission until his untimely passing on November 28, 2006. Prior to his death, however, Nick asked his family to take the reins of HEADstrong and grow the organization nationally.
It has been ten years since Colleluori’s passing but his legacy lives on through his vision, the HEADstrong Foundation™. Just as he predicted, athletes and teams nationwide are uniting on the playing field, proudly wearing lime green HEADstrong shoelaces and other Foundation merchandise to make a statement and raise funds to support the cause. HEADstrong grants financial assistance, provides complimentary housing and amenities through Nick’s House™, funds projects at hospitals to improve accommodations, supports innovative research, serves family meals, provides outlets of entertainment, delivers comfort kits and lends a direct arm of support through its peer to peer advocacy group.
“Our Nick was a three-sport athlete in high school and football was his first love. As a mother, I went from cheering on my son from the bleachers at Ridley High School to championing his mission in the cancer community. We are tackling a global epidemic, with cancer affecting 1 out of 2 people in the US alone. Our mission is simple yet critical. We are helping families here and now, when they need it the most. We continue to rally support and our hope is to ignite the football community to join our Team of Champions.” says Cheryl Colleluori HF President and Nick’s Mom.