Volleyball is never just a game for 17-year-old Cassidy Luze. It’s a chance for her to be part of a crowd, to feel the rush of energy and to bond with her mom and grandpa. It’s the sport that pushed her to reach for something more.
Cassidy is known as the world’s biggest fan of the University of Minnesota women’s volleyball team. It’s a title she earned by attending most of the team’s home games for the past 14 years and by her unfailing devotion to the coach and players. A quick look around her bedroom and you’ll see her “shrine” to the team—autographed posters and balls, photos of her with the players.
Her love affair with the team began when she was 3 years old after her grandpa took her to see her first game. It was love at first sight. As her grandpa recalls the moment, he sat Cassidy on his lap and enjoyed watching how she was captivated by the action.
“I love watching Cassidy at the games,” her mom, Darcy, exclaims. “Her whole face lights up and she’s just having the best time.”
Cassidy has quadriplegic cerebral palsy and that means she has limited use of all four of her limbs. She has trouble standing and that’s an issue because when the U of M volleyball team is at match point their fans stand to cheer. In her regular motorized wheelchair Cassidy could not cheer the way she wanted to. She wanted more.
Over the years, the U of M women’s volleyball team has given Cassidy a lot to cheer about. The 2018 season marks the 23rd year the Golden Gophers have advanced to the NCAA tournament and the third time since 2015 they have landed a No. 2 seed. While Cassidy and her mom are disappointed the Gophers won't be playing in the NCAA Division I women's volleyball tournament being held Dec. 13 and 15 at Target Center in Minneapolis, they're proud of the team and have tickets for the big event.
During the tournament Cassidy plans to put a little something extra into her cheering even though her beloved Gophers won't play. Doctors at Gillette Children's worked with Cassidy and her mom to get insurance approval for a new sit-to-stand wheelchair.
The Gillette doctors told Cassidy the new wheelchair will improve her bone density and strength. She smiled and communicated with the doctors that she wanted the new chair for another reason.
Gillette pediatric rehabilitation specialist, Marshall Taniguchi, MD, says, “When I asked Cassidy why she wanted a new chair she was insistent and communicated that she wanted it so she could stand at the U of M volleyball games. It’s delightful to see this young lady’s desire to participate along with the rest of the team’s fans.”
"Volleyball this year has been a dream in so many ways" Darcy Luze says. "The chair is just fantastic. The team's mascot, Goldy Gopher, loves Cassidy's standing chair and often seeks her out so they can stand together for set point. It's so fun!"
"We're bummed the Gophers lost last Friday (12/7/18) but I was reminded that the joy Cassidy gets our of being part of these matches with her amazing chair, is a victory no matter what," Darcy Luze adds. "Cassidy still had a lot of fun and loved be part of this special season."
Volleyball is not just a game for Cassidy. It’s an opportunity for her to be part of something big.
It’s a chance for all of us to be reminded that life’s greatest victories can happen off the court.