9-year-old Hollis Belger of Larkspur, California can juggle a soccer ball. In fact, Hollis can juggle quite well. Her record for keeping the ball airborne, alternating feet with no help from the thighs, is 461 touches. Hollis improved her personal record for this feat by practicing nearly daily for 2 months in a fundraiser she organized for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Hollis’s program was called, “Juggling for Jude.”
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is a renowned research hospital that treats all kids with cancer-free of charge and is at the forefront of research in hopes of curing catastrophic childhood illnesses.
Hollis, a skilled soccer player with a love for the game, was determined to raise money for the kids at St. Jude and to raise awareness of childhood cancers. She practiced almost every day through July and August, and despite breaking a toe at dance camp, continuing to videotape her daily records and write inspiring blog posts along the way to generate awareness and drive donations.
Juggling For Jude Video
A 9-year-old raises $32,000 to fight cancer
Hollis collected money from sponsors for her juggling, and by the end of the program had raised some $32,675 for St. Jude’s – this wasn’t your typical lemonade stand fundraiser. The amazing thing about this fundraiser is that it shows the power of a single young athlete doing what she loves, for the good of kids less fortunate. The combination of Hollis’ grit and determination, along with the community coming together to rally its support for St. Jude was nothing short of amazing. Hollis: job well done!
This is an entry into the TeamSnap and SportsFeelGoodStories.com “Sports Feel Good Story of the Year” contest. If you’re interested, please read the rules and submit your story here for the “Sports Feel Good Story of the Year.” The contest deadline was October 31, 2014.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Below is an article from Deepu Antony who submitted “Run With Love’s Leg” as part of the TeamSnap and SportsFeelGoodStories.com “Sports Feel Good Story of the Year Contest.”
Reader Submitted Article
Run With Love’s Leg
I never thought that a kids’ race at a school could make me cry.
The St. Mary’s Orphanage in Calicut, India, arranges sporting events for handicapped students each year on the school’s grounds. With a blow of a whistle, the 100-meter race started and 10 children began the race. When the race was about one half over, a boy stumbled and fell on the track. He wasn’t badly hurt but it appeared that if he continued running, he’d finish well behind the other contestants.
What happened next surprised me along with all of the spectators.
The 9 other competitors collectively stopped and came back to the fallen boy. Three of them grabbed his hands and arms and pulled him up to a standing position. Almost as if prearranged, they all began to run again to the finish line. The group continued the race and finished. The racers congratulated each other.
My eyes filled with tears. My tears were not the only ones in the crowd.
And, my heart said to me, “These are the real children that Jesus needs.”
Kids understand the game at a different level
I coach my daughter’s Bantam girls ice hockey team. We are the low house level – most girls haven’t played more than 3 years – and a few are brand new to hockey. In terms of our record, it was a dismal season, only 2 wins, but we kept the girls’ spirits up and still had fun. They persevered and worked hard at practice and even trained on their own. We ended up having a very successful playoff run and made the final game. We lost that game, but getting there was nothing short of a memorable journey for coaches, players and parents
Fast forward to the end of the season. We are playing in a season-ending tournament, and we’re playing our final game of the tourney and the season. We have one player in particular who started playing hockey at the
ripe age of 14, brand new. At the beginning of the season, she could barely stand on her skates, something like Bambi when she tries to walk on the frozen lake. Other hockey skills like passing, shooting and skating were difficult for her as well. And she fell a lot.
Her teammates were very supportive and encouraging from the get-go. They were always positive and did their best to help her with skills and position. But as the season progressed, she made very steady improvements. By the playoffs and this tourney, she was an effective forechecker who wasn’t afraid to bang and crash. She helped cause a lot of turnovers in our favor.
During this particular game, the other coaches and I noticed that as the game went on, the girls began to rally around her, and desperately wanted her to score that first goal. Every shot on net, every rush she took, and every check she made had the bench erupting with shouts of encouragement for her. The players even went so far as to get us to adjust the lines to put her in a better scoring position.
Despite getting a couple of shots and working her tail off she wasn’t able to get that elusive first goal. However, her heart and determination certainly didn’t go unnoticed. The coach of the other team picked her as Game MVP. To say her teammates and the spectators went berserk would be an understatement. It was an event in my coaching career that I will truly cherish and share as an example of an absolute selfless team effort, camaraderie, and inspiration. I can only hope that my future teams will come together and support and play for each other like these kids.
The Hollis Belger Story and Interview
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 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.
Sports Feel Good Story of the Year
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. She 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 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!
More With Hollis
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 sometime 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. And, it t 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.
Olympic Soccer Hopeful
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? And, 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 someday 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.
Andy is a sportswriter living in St. Paul, Minnesota.
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