Central Florida Finds Their Fight In An Unlikely Teammate

Thanksgiving in 2013 was an important time for the Steward family. Kayla Grace Steward had just turned two years old and was approaching the daunting task of potty training. After recovering from the family festivities, Shane Steward (former coach and alumni of the University of Central Florida Dogs of War) sat down with his daughter and noticed a large lump on Kayla’s collarbone. By the time Kayla made it to a hospital, there was a tumor the size of her fist inside her chest. At two years old, Kayla Grace Steward was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma.

While the cause of Neuroblastoma — the most common childhood cancer — is still unknown, Kayla’s diagnosis put her in the high-risk (or stage 4) category. This meant the beginning of a three stage treatment plan lasting for 18 long months. Fast forward to February 23rd, 2014. Kayla was dismissed from the hospital and able to spend a rare weekend at home. She had more color and life that, according to her mother Lisa Steward, “she hasn’t had in a long time.” In the Steward’s blog about their daughters progress (information on how to follow Kayla Grace’s story is listed at the bottom of the page), Lisa ends their latest post with the phrase, “It takes a village”.

Enter University of Central Florida Ultimate frisbee.

Shane Steward is the former coach of a UCF team that included current Dogs of War coach Andrew Roca. Steward currently coaches Voodoo in Seattle, and holds an assistant role for the AUDL’s Seattle Raptors.

When Voodoo and Florida United met at Colorado Cup this last club season, Coach Roca finally got the chance to meet Kayla.

“I met Kayla well before she was diagnosed and she was just a lovely girl, full of life and definitely in love with her father’s sport,” said Roca. “I was excited to meet her since she was born and also see my old coach who I haven’t seen since College.”

Ultiworld then asked Andrew Roca how he felt after the Stewards announced Kayla’s life changing diagnosis.

At first, it broke my heart to hear about her diagnosis. It’s even harder that they are across the nation in Seattle and we couldn’t offer much from Florida. Action needed to be taken and I thank Shane for letting me do as much as I can to raise awareness and help out any way I can. I couldn’t even begin to think about how hard it is on his family. After watching a “Real Sports” episode about College sport teams “adopting” children, I thought why couldn’t we? It’s a great cause that not only binds the team together, but provides hope for the family and child involved. It just so happened that this is closer to home because it’s one of our own. We’ll be there for Kayla and her family for as long as it takes, because that’s what any one of us would do for a fellow teammate.

And thus Kayla became the youngest member of the UCF Dogs of War and UCF Sirens communities. She will soon begin her fourth chemo cycle, which is expected to be followed by surgery and another cycle of chemical treatments. The family told Ultiworld that Kayla is a picture of health outside of the cancer. This has helped her avoid complications (such as infections) and recover well after each treatment — and it has kept everything on schedule so far, thereby preventing the tumor from gaining ground.

But, as Ms. Steward mentioned in her recent blog posts, “It takes a village.” So UCF is asking for the Ultimate community to come together in the Steward’s time of need. Central Florida has started a “Grace Under Pressure” campaign that involves selling yellow sweatbands with the initials KGS. For information on Kayla’s story, how to donate, or UCF’s involvement, see the links below.

***

Donate directly to the Steward family through UCF’s “Grace Under Pressure” foundation.
– Buy a “KGS” sweatband here.
– Follow Kayla’s story through her blog.
– Find out more general information about Kayla and Central Florida, visit UCF’s website.

  1. Preston Thompson
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    Preston Thompson has been a staff writer for Ultiworld since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Alabama where he played for four years. He started playing ultimate in the AFDC in Atlanta, GA in 2009. You can reach him by e-mail (preston.james.thompson@gmail.com) or follow him on Twitter (@pston3).

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