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NCAA celebrates National Student-Athlete Day

Annual day of service, development reaches its eighth year

Nancy Collett and Iman Tucker had never met. And yet, they are forever connected.

Both are cancer survivors.

Collett, an ambassador for Susan G. Komen Central Indiana, and Tucker, a senior business major who runs track at the University of Indianapolis, were among 150 college athletes, administrators, Indianapolis children and NCAA staff at the eighth annual National Student-Athlete Day celebration, an outreach initiative hosted by the NCAA education and community engagement group.

Diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago following an annual mammogram, Collett came to the NCAA national office to speak about her fight with the disease – a fight that involved 28 rounds of radiation, a lumpectomy to remove cancerous tissue, and now the cancer prevention drug tamoxifen.

Tucker, a hurdler from Seymour, Indiana, has been through two separate cancer diagnoses himself, once during his freshman year in high school and then in his first year on campus at UIndy. While in the hospital during one of those battles, Tucker’s spirits were lifted by a visit from Luke Harangody, a University of Notre Dame basketball player who went on to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in American Studies and computer applications. On the day of that visit, he made a promise that if he ever became a college athlete, he would help other cancer patients.

“I’ve only talked about my battle the last couple of years,” said Tucker. “It was tough for me to open up, but I want to be an advocate, to share my experiences, my second chances, to help others heal.”

Tucker joined the large group in a community service activity and assembled care packages, filling canvas bags with stress balls, ChapSticks and bottles of hand sanitizer and mouthwash. The group also included handwritten get-well cards and colorful posters. The 500 care packages were sent to people being treated for breast cancer at the new cancer resource center at IU Simon Cancer Center and Eskenazi Health.

“Going through treatment is stressful enough,” Collett said, eyes shining as she looked at the pile of stress balls being put into tan bags with pink ribbons. “And to get the ChapStick – because chemo and radiation drain fluids from you – to get those things are very important.”

National Student-Athlete Day is generally recognized April 6 nationwide but is celebrated beginning at the end of March and throughout April. NCAA student-athletes celebrate National Student-Athlete Day in a variety of ways on or around their college campuses each year, which can include hosting youth clinics, honoring their peers for academic accomplishments, speaking engagements at elementary and high schools and other local outreach initiatives.

The full-day celebration at the NCAA national office included a professional development activity for the college athlete volunteers focused on emotional intelligence and a tour of the NCAA Hall of Champions. The group also spent time with Bernanrd Franklin, NCAA executive vice president of education and community engagement/chief inclusion officer, and Anucha Browne, vice president of women’s basketball championships.

Besides UIndy, schools sending student-athletes to the celebration included Ball State, Anderson, Indiana State and Indiana universities; Earlham College; and the universities of Evansville and Southern Indiana.

“We enjoy bringing student-athletes to the national office,” Franklin said, “and positively contributing to their overall student-athlete experience.”

Today, Collett is still fatigued and has some bone and muscle pain, but her spirits are high, and so is her energy. Collett takes part in Dragon boat races with her teammates, the Indy SurviveOars, and in the process lost 30 pounds. (“It’s a floating support group,” she said.)

And Tucker is geared up for another outdoor season running hurdles for the Greyhounds, with a renewed perspective.

“Above all, today shows that there are people who care, who are thinking about you, that they know what you are going through,” Tucker said.

“And even if they don’t know,” he continued, “they’re still willing to support you.”