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COLLEGE PARK – Angelo Torrealba Serrano is a shy five-year-old that does not say much. However, once he entered the Varsity Team House at the University of Maryland and saw a whiteboard with “Welcome to Maryland Angelo” scribbled on, his nonstop smile said enough.
For Angelo, he was slowly experiencing something new, being a part of a team. After being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) after this third birthday, he has felt demotivated to try new activities or even playing alongside his nine year-old sister Victoria. His mother, Monica Serrano, thought signing him up to join a team would bring him out of his shell.
“Being a part of team would empower him and if he tries things, he will get better at running or playing whatever sport he wanted to play,” Serrano said. “I just didn’t want him to be self-conscious or feel that he could not keep up with his sister.”
Now, Angelo will have a team of running partners supporting him after being “recruited” and signing his letter of intent to be a part of the University of Maryland’s Track and Field team as part of a Draft Day ceremony on Nov. 26.
Joining the Terrapins was the culmination of a tough journey for Angelo. In May 2016, he was diagnosed with ALL, a type of blood cancer that affects white blood cells and can become fatal within a few months if not treated quickly, according to the American Cancer Society. Angelo was quickly placed in remission and started three-and-a-half year treatment process.
During his treatments, Victoria has started participating in cross county at St. Jerome’s Academy in Hyattsville. Once he was declared in the maintenance stage of his treatment, Angelo would join her for runs and was happy to be active again. However, at times, he would get lonely and stopped running all together, Serrano said.
During one of his treatment visits, Serrano read about Team Impact’s Draft Day program and quickly signed up her son. Team Impact is a national nonprofit that connects children with chronic or serious illnesses with college athletic teams. The program allows children going through treatments that feel lonely or afraid to interact and an opportunity to a part of a team, Case Manager Lynn LaRocca said.
“When children are struggling with chronic or life-threatening illnesses, they inherently feel different from their peers,” LaRocca said. “They are isolated, they are medicalized at the hospital and they are missing out on a lot of opportunities that their typical peers get to participate in. With this opportunity, we are hopeful that it decreases the feeling of isolation and increases confidence.”
Once a child is paired with a university, a Draft Day is set up which includes signing a letter of intent as a full-fledged recruit. Serrano, an alum of Maryland, was excited to see that her alma mater chose her son to become a part of their track and field team.
“He will love being a Terp,” Serrano said.
Players decorated one of the film study rooms in the Field House to create a signing day ceremony stage with balloons, the official team back-drop and a press conference table. Testudo made an appearance, quickly becoming a hit with Angelo’s siblings.
Once the ceremony began and the letter of intent was pulled out, Angelo excitedly jumped out of his high chair, without saying a word, and signed on the dotted line. When presented with his new Maryland gear, he immediately put it on and never took it off. Angelo toured the men’s locker room and toured the facilities with his new teammates following the event.
“We cannot wait to have you fully integrated and become a part of us every day,” sophomore cross country runner and Potomac native Julia Reicin said directly to Angelo.
Men’s Track and Field Head Coach Andrew Valmon called Angelo “the perfect fit” for Maryland and his addition will allow the former two-time Olympian to practice speaking Spanish. As an official member of the team, he will attend team practices, events and games throughout the season. Maryland Track will also join Angelo in community service events in his community, according to LaRocca.
For Serrano, seeing her son appreciate the moment and not have to think about his condition was a sign of progress as he inches closer to the finish line of recovery.
“I go to the hospital on a monthly or weekly basis and I see other kids that do not have the opportunities to leave the hospital or participate in activities like this,” Serrano said. “To see him be so happy and to see him motivated to be on the team makes me really proud.”