An undersized 3 sport athlete noted for his never-give-up mental toughness, determination and aggressiveness, Nick received countless accolades in football, wrestling and lacrosse during his high school years.
He accepted an athletic scholarship to Hofstra University joining their Men’s Lacrosse Program, a childhood dream fulfilled. While at Hofstra, Nick took the field in all 16 games as a freshman, cracking the Pride’s lineup and seeing significant minutes on their man-down unit.
In April 2005, towards the end of his freshman season, Nick had difficulty hearing play calls and his family’s cheers during a game against Delaware. He woke up the following morning unable to hear from his right ear. He was evaluated by an Ear, Nose and Throat Doctor who removed inflamed adenoids and biopsies revealed Nicholas was diagnosed with Diffuse Large B-Cell non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a blood cancer affecting the lymphatic system.
Nick’s Hofstra Lacrosse freshman headshot
Nick playing against University of Delaware
Nick shared the news with his team, withdrew from Hofstra and returned home with his family to be treated at The Hospital of The University of Pennsylvania. Though the initial diagnosis was positive, doctors later told the Colleluori’s that Nick should have lived for only three months due to aggressiveness of the cancer. But true to Nick’s relentless attitude, he endured a 14-month battle with cancer, undergoing chemotherapy, radiation and a stem cell transplant, along with experimental treatments.
Shortly after being diagnosed, Nicholas recognized a lack of resources for cancer patients and their families. Experiencing firsthand the hardships, from his hospital bed he created the HEADstrong Foundation to raise awareness and funds for cancer by empowering athletes to support his mission. He drew the organization’s logo moments before entering the operating room for a procedure, and outlined its mission and future plans.
The image below illustrates Nick’s short term and long term vision
After doctors told Nicholas there was nothing they could do to prolong his life, Nicholas made his final wishes to his parents on a ride home from the hospital. He took the car keys out of his father’s hands and said, ‘Dad, you’re too upset to drive. Mom, I want you to drive. Dad, I want you to get in the back seat because there are some things I need to talk to Mom about,’” Cheryl Colleluori recalls. “He held my hand. We were sitting side-by-side. I’m driving home, and Nick says, ‘I want to talk about three things, and I never want to talk about them again.’” First, he wanted to be cremated and buried. Second, he wanted a memorial scholarship at Ridley High School and at Hofstra University. And finally, Nicholas said, “Mom, I need you to take the Foundation to where it needs to go. “Don’t question anything,” he told her. “The lacrosse family is my brotherhood. They won’t turn their backs on you.”
Moments before Nick took his last breath, he asked his family to promise him that others following in his footsteps would benefit from his life. Today, the Colleluori family, the HEADstrong staff and volunteers are carrying out his vision raising millions of dollars and supporting thousands of patients nationwide.
Nicholas passed away November 28, 2006, in his fathers arms. His legacy will live on forever.
“Make use of the time you have and don’t stress the little things. Have a smile and enjoy what you can get out of life.” – Nick Colleluori
The Colleluori Family months before Nick was diagnosed
The Colleluori’s last dinner with Nick
Nick’s last game he ever played in
Nick’s sketch of our original logo on a napkin
Nick Day 1 after his stem cell transplant