The FOJ Experience

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Headline: Harlie Bryant spiking her way to lifelong friendship with Western Kentucky Volleyball

By Michael J. Lewis

There are so many things children with brain tumors miss out on, but for Harlie Bryant of Beaver Dam, Ky., maybe the worst missed opportunity was having a typical kid’s birthday party.

You know, with cake and ice cream and party hats and silly games and friends and everyone gathered around celebrating you. Every child in the world deserves to be king or queen for a day, once a year.

But for a few years in a row, Harlie’s big day was shrouded in tough moments. Around her 6th birthday in 2012, she was undergoing chemotherapy as part of her treatment for an optic astrocytoma that had been diagnosed a year earlier.

On her 7th birthday, Harlie again was in and out of recovery and hospitals, ruining what should’ve been a happy time.

So a few weeks before her 8th birthday, in February, 2014, Harlie’s mom, Lisa, was talking to Travis Hudson, the head coach of Western Kentucky women’s volleyball, the team that had adopted Harlie in 2012. Once Lisa told Travis what the last few years had been like around her birthday, “I just sprung into action. That was all I needed to hear,” Travis recalls.

What followed was an enormous party that blew away the whole Bryant family. Hudson rented out the entire WKU basketball arena and got most Hilltopper athletics teams to attend. There were tie-dyed shirts, a Bouncy House castle, obstacle courses, and more cake than even Marie Antoinette could’ve ever dreamed of.

“It was amazing, amazing!” Harlie recalls. “I had NO idea they were going to do anything. And everybody was there!”

The huge bash was just one of the many wonderful moments Harlie has experienced with WKU volleyball and coach Hudson, who Lisa calls “part of our family now.”

For the past four years, when she has been healthy enough, Harlie has attended WKU games and practices (Beaver Dam is about 40 minutes from WKU’s campus in Bowling Green), and had lots of other off-campus get togethers with team members like Ashley Potts and Jessica Lucas.

The team has had sleepover parties at the Bryant home, gone dancing together, and made numerous trips to the hospital when Harlie was undergoing treatments or having surgery.

“The biggest thing this (relationship) has given Harlie is it’s allowed her to be a kid sometimes, and not just be a hospital patient,” Harlie’s father, Jamie, says. “They put a smile on her face and make her forget about all the other stuff in her life, and that’s just been incredible for us.

For Travis, getting involved in FOJ meant explaining to his team that this was not going to be a half-commitment, that they’d “all need to really be involved with Harlie’s life, now and for the rest of her life.”

He even took the step of bringing in a WKU school counselor to talk to the team about dealing with the highs and lows of growing close to a cancer patient.

That advice surely came in handy exactly one year ago, when Harlie suffered a serious stroke. She had to be hospitalized for weeks, and the stroke affected her speech, behavior, and changed her personality.

But throughout the long rehab process, Harlie’s volleyball teammates have been there for her. FaceTiming, texting and visiting when they can, the Hilltoppers have done their best to keep the friendship strong.

“School has been really hard for Harlie, because a lot of kids are now scared of her, or don’t know how to act around her,” Lisa says. “So having the team in her corner, supporting her, has been so huge.”

Another volleyball season is right around the corner, and Harlie is hoping she’ll be able to attend some games to support “her girls.”

“I get really nervous watching, but I love it!” Harlie says. “I just want them to win!”

By being Harlie’s friend, they already have.

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FOJ Experience #1–Mia & Rachel Gurevitz, Lake Forest College

FOJ Experience #2–Derek Vincent, Rhodes College Baseball

FOJ Experience #3–Bennett Nester, Rice Tennis

FOJ Experience #4–Matthew Erickson, Elgin Community College

FOJ Experience #5–Sammi & Brooklyn Starkey, Rock Canyon Jaguars Softball

FOJ Experience #6–Genna & Rose Camiolo, Rutgers Lacrosse

FOJ Experience #7–Bianka Kucelin, Georgia Tech Volleyball

FOJ Experience #8–Wesley Berry, Mary Washington University Athletics

FOJ Experience #9–Jess Russo and Jaclyn, Northwestern W. Lax

FOJ Experience #10–Quinn Ostergren, Uconn Soccer

FOJ Experience #11–Eliza Williams & Elon University

FOJ Experience #12–Joey Rodiguez, USC Football

FO Experience #13–Logan Hoosier, Ohio State Basketball

FOJ Experience #14–Sean Callahan, Army Football

FOJ Experience #15–CSU Teams adopt Abby, Jack & Sara

FOJ Experience #16–CSU Part II

FOJ Experience #17–Angelo Mastandrea, Arlington Lacrosse

FOJ Experience #18–Ian Anderson, Michigan State Hockey

FOJ Experience #19–Andrew Silsby, UNH Hockey

FOJ Experience #20–Jackson and Elijah, Georgetown Football

FOJ Experience #21–Nick, Long Brothers & Connor, Johns Hopkins Men’s Lacrosse

FOJ Experience #22–Baylee Adkins, UNCW W. Soccer

FOJ Experience #23–Makayla Compton, High Point University W. Lacrosse

FOJ Experience #24–Gwennie Marra, Princeton Softball

FOJ Experience #25–Benner & Royer Families, PSU

FOJ Experience #26–Blake Robinson, LA Opera

FOJ Experience #27–Deppiesse Brothers, Lakeland College Football

FOJ Experience #28–Thomas Archibald, Wentworth Institute of Tech. Men’s Lacrosse

FOJ Experience #29–Tara Sankner, George Mason Softball

FOJ Experience #30–Violet Murphy, Otterbein Lacrosse

FOJ Experience #31–Kara Magaz, Loyola W. Lacrosse

FOJ Experience #32–Cameron Neal, Dayton Baseball

FOJ Experience #33–Vhito DeCapria, Penn Football

FOJ Experience #34–Nicholas Trivelpiece, Syracuse Men’s Basketball

FOJ Experience #35–Aiden Maynard, Wake Forest Football

FOJ Experience #36–Andrea, West Point Women’s Basketball

FOJ Experience #37–Daniel Alexander, Notre Dame Baseball

FOJ Experience #38–Alison Pyle, UVM Women’s Lacrosse

FOJ Experience #39–Jakub West, Marquette Lacrosse

FOJ Experience #40–Abby Sayles, Albany W. Soccer

FOJ Experience #41–Stacia Boynton

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