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Division II SAAC hosts Make-A-Wish reveal at NCAA national office

Division II SAAC held its first Make-A-Wish reveal at the national office for a four-year-old with Dravet syndrome

Four-year-old Aubrie Krowel and her mom, dad and sister walked Sunday through the hallway at the NCAA national office in Indianapolis, surrounded by Division II student-athletes who were just as excited as the family.

With each step, the Krowels received a different camping-themed gift: a brand-new pink sleeping bag. An outdoor adventure kit. A glow-in-the-dark rock painting kit. Even a children’s book that had inspired the afternoon: Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go.”

But the biggest gift awaited the Krowels outside. It was a camper – one that will help the family create new memories with Aubrie, who was born with Dravet syndrome, a catastrophic form of epilepsy that forces her to stay close to home.

Airports – with their lights and movement – can trigger seizures for Aubrie. Their new adventures started Sunday outside the national office, where Aubrie climbed in and out of the camper.

“This was really important for us to be able to have for her as a way for her to get out of the house and be somewhat normal,” said April Krowel, Aubrie’s mother. “The look on her face going up and down those stairs, you could tell it was something special for her.”

The national Division II Student-Athlete Advisory Committee hosted the wish reveal at the NCAA national office in Indianapolis through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Division II and Make-A-Wish began a partnership in 2003, but while Division II schools host wish reveals on campus, Sunday marked the first time national SAAC was able to take part in one. The reveal occurred during the Division II SAAC and Management Council Summit.

Through the Make-A-Wish initiative, Division II schools across the country have been able to raise nearly $6 million and grant more than 700 wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions.

“To see the passion the family has for Make-A-Wish combined with our passion for Make-A-Wish through national SAAC was an amazing opportunity to reveal to her that she gets to go camping,” said Alex Shillow, Division II SAAC chair and Texas A&M-Commerce football student-athlete. “It’s a humbling experience to be part of something that is bigger than yourself.”

Shillow has been involved with two wish reveals at his institution, but with the average cost of a wish reveal near $10,000, not every student-athlete on national SAAC gets that experience.

“Throughout the years, we have had a number of (Division II institutions) grant wishes on their campuses, but that doesn’t mean our SAAC student-athletes have been a part of that,” said Amanda Benzine, NCAA assistant director of championships and alliances and staff liaison to the Division II SAAC. “To be able to tell them that they get to be part of one, it was so great to see their faces.”

The family was traveling at an airport when Aubrie was 8 months old and experienced her first seizure. Since her diagnosis, she has had to remain mostly inside her home, and the family has been unable to travel together.

“These [athletes] are the kind of people I want my daughters to look up to,” April Krowel said. “People who are selfless, and I could tell they were so excited to give back.”