By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 7/1/21
His parents were not noticing that Nick Colleluori had slipped onto the lacrosse field for the second-half faceoff for Team Pickle’s Place 15 years ago in a summer league game at Pritchard Field in Swarthmore.
Colleluori had just been released from the University of Pennsylvania Hospital after a 60-day quarantine following a stem-cell transplant due to his worsening cancer diagnosis for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
But here he was, to some quite frail and weak, playing on the wing and scooping a groundball before feeding his younger brother, Michael, for a goal to open the second half.
The legend of Nick Colleluori is such that his exploits on the lacrosse and football fields are repeated time and time again.
But this shift, on June 29, 2006, may have been the most impactful of Colleluori’s life. It was his last shift ever, but one that may have left its mark for the ages.
That final appearance on a lacrosse field was honored Tuesday night at Malvern Prep when host GMH hosted Team HEADstrong in a regular-season game of the Summer Lacrosse League of Southeastern PA (SLLSEPA) Millard P. Robinson division. The event featured a commemoration of Nick Colleuori’s life and contributions, with his older brother Pat Colleluori, HEADstrong Foundation’s Director of development, giving a speech to the teams and fans (see YouTube video below).
Of course, Nick Colleluori was the creator of the HEADstrong Foundation, which, among other things, has raised over $20 million in funds to fight blood cancer, assisted over 20,000 families and provided over 30,000 complimentary nights of lodging to patients and their families at Nick’s House in several locations.
But beyond what the HEADstrong Foundation has meant to the lacrosse community, there is Nick Colleluori’s spirit. That’s something that did not die on that field 15 years ago and never will be left behind.
“Nick had just endured a 60-day post transplant quarantine, and he was using that time in the hospital to conceptualize HEADstrong,” said Pat Colleluori whose brother died at 21 on Nov. 28, 2006. “When he was discharged, despite his ailing health, he longed to be on the field; he longed to be around the game.
“He asked mom and dad if he could go to the (SLLSEPA) game and they felt he could watch the game from the sidelines and that it would be good for him. When he packed his gear, he didn’t tell our folks.
“So at halftime he told them he was going to the bathroom, but Nick was getting his gear on; he had hid it in the truck. My mom and dad asked where Nick was when the second half started and there’s Nick out on the faceoff wing. He actually came up with the groundball and assisted on a goal to my brother. It was the first time he had played in 10 months (while at Hofstra where he was a sophomore).”
Pat Colleluori told the story of Nick Colleluori to the GMH and HEADstrong players after the game; though, anyone who knows of Nick’s legacy already knows the story. Still, it sounds just as motivating every time it’s told.
“That was the last time he played lacrosse,” Pat said. “As he was coming off the field, mentally and physically, he was understanding his cancer was out of his control.
“But in that moment, his internal dialogue was saying, ‘You don’t have me yet; I’m still able to play.'”
On Tuesday, GMH’s Quinn McCahon (Notre Dame senior, Malvern Prep grad) and HEADstrong’s Nick Eufrasio (former starter at Marquette, Ridley grad) were honored for exemplifying Nick’s leadership, courage and heart. Pat Colleluori also acknowledged GMH Director Pat Holloway and his family; brother Mike Holloway helped start the HEADstrong high school club program.
Pat Colleluori also spoke about how Nick overcame a size disadvantage to become a Division I player who played the game (defenseman) like it was meant to be played – with extreme passion and reckless, but controlled abandon. Even on his last shift, at maybe 120 pounds due to so many rounds of chemo treatments, Colleluori was a demon on the field.
“That last shift was a confidence builder,” said Pat Colleluori. “It kept him fighting. That last shift was probably his most important shift of his life.
“He needed something to keep him moving forward,” said Pat Colleluori. “It fostered a sense of normalcy he was longing for – and at HEADstrong that’s what we do, try to help people feel some sense of normalcy when fighting cancer.”
Pat Colleluori said HEADstrong has so many big plans for the post-pandemic era it’s hard to figure where to start. Announcements will be coming soon.
HEADstrong will remain relentless in its mission of beating cancer – you can thank Nick Colleluori for that. #CarryTheTorch