The HEADstrong Foundation: The power of sports


Olivia Braito, Graphics Manager

Graphics by Olivia Braito.

Michael Caruso, Senior Writer

Individuals across the globe are undeniably connected through sports. Now, a campaign against cancer started by a 19-year-old college lacrosse player in 2005 is becoming one of the biggest sports trends across the country, bringing athletes at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels together.


An undersized high school athlete who exemplified determination and hard work, Nick Colleluori had to grind for success his entire life. He accepted an athletic scholarship to Hofstra University for lacrosse, where he played in all of his team’s 16 games during his first year. Despite this success, something unusual happened in a game against Delaware that changed his life forever.


Colleluori was unable to hear the calls from his coaches and the cheers from the crowd throughout the game, and when he woke up the next morning, he could not hear out of his right ear. After being evaluated by an ear, nose, and throat doctor, he was diagnosed with Diffuse Large B-Cell non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Colleluori tragically passed away after a 14-month battle with cancer. But in that short time between his diagnosis and passing, he started the HEADstrong Foundation to spread cancer awareness, help find a cure, and assist families affected with the disease.


Cancer and the deaths it causes have likely impacted all of our lives – either directly or indirectly. But like legendary ESPN sportscaster Stuart Scott said at the 2014 ESPY Awards, “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live.”


Since the organization’s beginnings, Colleluori and his family’s impact has helped raise over $10 million, providing over 14,000 patients with a more tolerable journey through their cancer battle. The campaign has recently picked up momentum on social media, as athletes across the United States are posting pictures of themselves participating in their sport with hashtags #headstrongfoundation and #findacure. The HEADstrong logo, initially drawn on a napkin by Colleluori himself, has been splashed across Instagrams of athletes of all ages and sports – including many of our own Bison.


The aim of the foundation is to provide aid for the mental and physical toll cancer takes on the patients by providing resources like Nick’s House, which provides complimentary housing to out-of-town patients and families that are undergoing cancer-related treatment in the Philadelphia area.


“In September of 2014, our sweet 14-month-old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia, completely devastating our family,” Emily Garibaldi, whose family has been beneficiaries of the HEADstrong Foundation’s work, said. “We had the privilege of moving to Nick’s House and meeting the Colleluori family. My daughter loved to run freely with all of her toys and it was so amazing to see her be a toddler again, and not one attached to an IV pole or living in a 12 x 12 hospital room in isolation! We appreciate everything that HEADstrong has provided my family.  They gave us a warm, loving home where we could continue to make memories as a family even when faced with tough hardships.”


The HEADstrong Foundation can only go up from here. With thousands of people sharing their stories and donating, the cure for cancer, hopefully, is not too far out of reach. And in the end, the impact of this cause makes you marvel at not only how sports are an amazing way to bring people closer, but also how a young athlete took a hardship and created a way to alleviate the struggles of others.


“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,” Colleluori said. Even after his passing, he left his legacy with the HEADstrong Foundation, his positive outlook on life helping to inspire athletes and individuals battling cancer around the world.

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