What were you doing when you were 9 years-old? Maybe going to school, hanging out with friends, playing some sports, avoiding piano practice, and what else? What was your biggest accomplishment?
When Hollis Belger of Larkspur, California, was 9, she spearheaded a program that raised over $32,000 to fight childhood cancer with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as the beneficiary. How did she do it? By juggling a soccer ball.
Soccer juggling, or what the Brits call “Keepie-Uppie” or “Kick-ups,” entails keeping a soccer ball up in the air via multiple touches with feet, knees, thighs, head, shoulder and chest so that the ball doesn’t fall and hit the ground. But, Hollis’ brand of soccer juggling calls for her to just use her her feet, which if you’ve ever tried this, you’d know it makes it about 20 times more difficult. Hollis practiced her juggling on a near, daily basis to raise the money for St. Jude’s over a 2 month timeframe. Along the way, she raised her soccer juggling count to an amazing 461 touches before the ball hit the ground.
Hollis’ “Juggling for Jude” story was voted by readers the TeamSnap and SportsFeelGoodStories.com “Sports Feel Good Story of the Year.” We’re also told that Hollis will be featured in the Jan/Feb issue of Sports Illustrated for Kids.
Hollis’ parents, Allison and TJ who own TJ’s Gyms, and her older sister Lyle provide a strong support system for Hollis who continued her juggling through 100 degree days, and yes, the soccer ball came with them on a family vacation. Hollis was even able to continue her juggling despite breaking a toe dancing.
We caught up with the now 10 year-old Hollis Belger shortly after she found out that her story, submitted by her mom, had won the “Sports Feel Good Story of the Year.”
Soccer star and cancer fundraiser: Hollis Belger Interview
Sports Feel Good Stories: When you first heard that your “Juggling for Jude” fundraiser was voted the “Sports Feel Good Story of the Year,” what was your reaction?
It was the biggest smile I’ve had on my face in a while. My heart rose up in my chest, and I felt really happy and accomplished for what I had done.
What motivated you to start this fundraiser?
I wanted to help kids at St. Jude who are really sick and can’t do things like play soccer or dance like I can. I thought that I should be thankful for the fact that I can do what I can, and I wanted to give back in some way.
How did you come about the juggling a soccer ball approach?
I chose juggling because it turned out that I had a special talent for it. Once I reached over 100 juggles in the November before the fundraiser, I knew I could get something going. Also, I figured I could work on my juggling skills while I’m also helping kids in need, so it was helpful in two ways—the kids at St. Jude could get more services, and I could develop my soccer skills!
What did your soccer coach say about the fundraiser?
I think he said, “Cool, Dude.” He sometimes talks like that, but really he was very supportive and proud and helped me get the word out to his teams to help raise money. Plus, he was glad I was practicing my juggling all summer!
What was your favorite thing about the fundraiser?
Really the best part was helping the children at St. Jude and realizing what the hospital does. It seemed really tough at times, but it also made me stronger and more confident that I can do things I’ve never done before. This will definitely pay off in my life in the future!
How did you decide on St. Jude’s as the beneficiary?
My mom knew about St. Jude since she was a little girl. She had told me about this special hospital where they treat kids with cancer. I thought it was amazing. When I found out it was also a research hospital, I wanted to do it even more! St. Jude is really an amazing place. I want to visit there some time this year.
What were some of the biggest challenges in leading this event?
Getting up every day and trying to get a good number, no matter how I was feeling or what my schedule was like. Sometimes it was really hot, but I always tried my best to get a good number. It was sometimes hard to stay motivated to keep at it, especially on days when it was very tiring and hard. It was especially hard when I broke my toe dancing. It really hurt, but I had to work through it, and I knew a broken toe was the smallest little thing, compared to what happens to the kids at St. Jude.
What advice would you give other kids who are looking to make a difference in the world?
My advice is to them is if you fall down, get up! Remember, you don’t have to make it the biggest project in the world. Sometimes, the smallest things matter the most. Think about little things you can do, and you never know how your idea will expand into something bigger.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I want to be an Olympic soccer player, a star on Broadway, and most of all, I want to own my parents’ gyms!
Outside of soccer, what are some of your interests?
Performing—acting, singing, and dancing. I do CrossFit training at our gyms to stay fit and help with my soccer.
Favorite movie? Favorite book? Favorite TV show?
Movie: Finding Nemo Book: Land of Stories TV Show: Good Luck, Charlie.
Who inspires you and why?
My family inspires me, because they have always taught me good values and have always taught me to do something good for others. My parents are amazing athletes and owners of a wonderful gym with a big gym family.
Alex Morgan and Yael Averbuch also inspire me—they are amazing soccer stars and some day I want to be like them. Alex Morgan has fought through the pain of her ankle injury and keeps fighting. Yael Averbush has amazing skills and helped me out by posting about Juggling for Jude on her website.
What did you learn from leading this event?
I learned to stay confident and to try harder each day, even when it feels hard and you think about quitting. Also, I learned that we all have something we can do to help others. If you’re a young kid like me, you can still make a difference!
What’s next for Hollis? Any plans to expand the fundraiser?
YES! I plan to do “Juggling for Jude” with my team and even my whole soccer club next summer! I also want to expand it around the country. St. Jude is now doing their own version of my project, which is pretty amazing, but I plan to keep Juggling for Jude going for as long as I can still help the kids at St. Jude.
For Hollis, who has already proven she can keep many balls up in the air, the sky’s the limit. Well done on the fundraiser and continued success with the program, school, dancing, performing, etc..
If you know of any soccer teams or associations who might like to participate in the Juggling for Jude program, visit Hollis’ site Juggling For Jude for contact information.