A Perfect Match!

  • By Shannon McNamara
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  • June 22, 2013 10:00 AM
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - With great excitement and enthusiasm, the West Virginia University gymnastics team announces the upcoming draft of Hundred, W.Va., native Krista Mae Peraldo.

Upon her draft, eight-year old Krista Mae will become a full-time member of the Mountaineer gymnastics team.

“We’re very excited to have Krista Mae join us this season,” said WVU assistant coach Bridget Boyd, the Mountaineers’ community service outreach supervisor. “A gymnast herself, she is going to bring a lot of enthusiasm with her to Cary Gym, and the team is ready to help her work on her skills.”

Diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia on March 31, 2013, Krista Mae’s spirits were down throughout the first few weeks of her treatment, as she missed school and took up residence at the WVU Children’s Hospital. It was during one of her April stays that the Mountaineers first met their future teammate.

“We had heard that Krista Mae was a big fan of gymnastics, and we wanted to meet her,” said junior Beth Deal, one of the team’s four Team IMPACT advocates along with seniors Hope Sloanhoffer and Bethany Yurko, and sophomore Melissa Idell. “When we walked into her room, her whole face lit up. She really liked talking gymnastics with us.”

“I wish I could have captured her face when the girls first got to her room in April,” said Krista Mae’s mother, Stephanie Peraldo. “She is so excited to join the team.”

The Peraldos and the Mountaineers have one organization to thank for their connection – Team IMPACT. A Boston-based non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses, Team IMPACT seeks out college athletic teams that wish to welcome an extra-special team member into the fold. It is the organization’s wish that these partnerships establish bonds that last throughout the duration of the child’s treatment and beyond.

Pairing Krista Mae with the Mountaineers appeared to be a natural fit for all involved.

“Our outreach team contacted the folks at the WVU medical center, and a member of Krista Mae’s support staff made the direct referral to us,” explained Maura Mahoney, the director of case management and communications at Team IMPACT. “Once we noticed that Krista Mae loved WVU gymnastics, we did anything and everything we could to get in touch with the team and make the connection.”

“After our first visit with Krista Mae, Bridget mentioned that we should visit more often,” Deal said. “Krista Mae is a gymnast, and we can relate with her on that level. She treated us like celebrities that day, which we aren’t, and we were totally on board with visiting her in the hospital more often because we wanted to make her treatment time easier.

“A few weeks later, we were told that Team IMPACT wanted to partner with us and help Krista Mae join our team. We couldn’t be more excited to gain a new team member!”

As a member of the team, Krista Mae will have full access to the Mountaineers – a standing invitation to any practice and special extra-curricular events, a locker inside Cary Gym and a floor routine choreographed just for her. Most importantly, Krista Mae will have 13 gymnasts standing behind her, cheering her on through her treatments – she’s staring down at least five months of weekly chemotherapy after spending 21 days in the hospital upon her initial diagnosis – and offering distractions from her day-to-day challenges.

The understanding between Team IMPACT and the partnering college team is that the children will be embraced for who they are – just another kid.

“We see these kids go through so much medically, but also in addition to what they have to deal with in terms of treatments,” Mahoney said. “They deal with so much, including many social and psychological challenges. They have a number of new anxieties, and they really do struggle. Being a part of a team through Team IMPACT gives these kids a boost, socially and psychologically, where they can see an improvement in their quality of life.

“We have seen other teams that have been successfully matched truly embrace these kids. In turn, these kids really do show a greater improvement in their quality of life and have great self-confidence. They may feel like they have a sense of belonging and feel like they are a part of the team because of their teammates and coaches.”

Stephanie says that Krista Mae went through a wide range of emotions after her diagnosis and initial treatment. A generally excitable, well-rounded and happy child, she says her daughter became introverted for a bit, noting that she couldn’t figure out what was going on with her body.

“She finally broke down one day and asked me how this could happen, and I told her there’s no medical explanation for it – it just does,” recalled Stephanie. “You don’t know who it’s going to hit or when. She then asked me the all important question – why me? I told her it’s because God knew we (Stephanie, her husband, John, daughter Airadeea and son Michael) were a strong-loving family and that we could withstand this without it breaking us.”

Happy with the answer her mother gave her, Krista Mae’s spirits soon turned around and she was discharged and able to go home before she began her current round of treatment. Stephanie believes that joining the Mountaineers will further Krista Mae’s recuperation.

“I think being around these girls will give her the confidence to know that even though she’s been sick, she can’t be stopped from doing anything,” she enthused. “Krista Mae needs good role models, and these girls are very, very dedicated to their sport. This will help her learn some of those skills, too.

“She’s at a critical age right now. Krista Mae has already learned a lot of life lessons, but I’m hoping she picks up some good ones from this team, too. You can teach a lot of lessons by having fun.”

Fun is a guarantee in Krista Mae’s life now. Deal stresses that the Mountaineers won’t settle for less.

“Everyone knows that this team is just a bunch of crazy, loud girls that like to have a good time while working hard,” she said through a laugh. “Everyone that is around us likes to have fun, too! Anyone, but especially Krista Mae, would be a good fit for us because we’re such a welcoming group. We laugh, we dance – it’s perfect for a little girl to be right by our side.

“We’re most excited about teaching Krista Mae her floor routine. She’ll be in Cary Gym a lot throughout preseason, and I think a routine, with her own floor music, will be a great way for her to get back into gymnastics. She can work on her routine while we’re practicing, and I think that will help her feel even more like a Mountaineer. I’m really excited to start that project with her.”

The fun is just around the corner for Krista Mae and the Mountaineers. The Peraldos should be on campus in the coming weeks, and a draft-day celebration will officially mark the beginning of Krista Mae’s WVU adventure.

Future updates about Krista Mae and her Mountaineer journey will be available at WVUgymnastics.com. To learn more about Team IMPACT, please visit GoTeamIMPACT.com.