Ducks Announce New Addition to the Program
Disney, fairies and chocolate. Three things that any typical 9-year-old girl would love.
But Calypso Vander Velden's journey has been anything but typical. The Oregon softball program welcomed her Monday as the newest addition to the team, holding a signing day ceremony through Team IMPACT virtually via Zoom.
Vander Velden lives with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) – a genetic disease that affects the central nervous system and voluntary muscle movement. It's a disorder that makes it difficult for her to communicate verbally and has her bound to a wheelchair.
But despite all the challenges that she has faced, Vander Velden has found a way to do many of the activities that any girl of her age would have the opportunities to participate in. She loves Disneyland and has been there multiple times with her family, is a Girl Scout and played t-ball for the first time last year. While she has trouble communicating verbally, Vander Velden is incredibly good at using facial expressions to communicate.
During Monday's virtual signing ceremony, she had a big smile on her face and could hardly wait to finally sign her letter of intent to become the latest addition to the Oregon roster. While Ducks' head coach Melyssa Lombardi was introducing her, Vander Velden told her mother, Celia, that she was so eager to officially sign that she wanted her introduction cut short.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, the process of matching Vander Velden and the Ducks took a little longer than expected, but once it was finalized the entire program embraced her with open arms.
"We are all excited to have this opportunity to welcome Calypso to our family," said Lombardi. "We needed a teammate who was going to bring a huge smile every time we see her, someone who didn't mind making a bunch of new friends and is an all-around good teammate and brings a positive energy to the table, and we know Calypso will do all of that for us."
Over the last few months, several of the student-athletes have met up with her virtually, playing games, reading stories or just hanging out. Six members of the team – Alyssa Brito, Jordan Dail, Hanna Delgado, Samaria Diaz, Katelyn Howard and Brooke Yanez – make up Oregon's leadership committee for Team IMPACT and have taken the initiative to help make Vander Velden feel welcome within the program.
"Calypso brings so much to our team," said Diaz. "She's brings so much positive energy to our team and has so much compassion for others. Calypso inspires us all to be better every day and she looks up to us, we look up to her as well. We love Calypso and are so excited to have her as a part of our team."
For Vander Velden's mom, Celia, the one thing that she's always hoped is for her daughter to just be treated as any normal 9-year-old would be, and the warm reception she has received from the Ducks has given her just that.
"It hasn't been lost on me that the Oregon softball family made the conscientious choice to not just accept Calypso but when an opportunity in the form of a challenge presented itself, everyone involved made the choice to embrace the challenge and to fully embrace Calypso," said Celia Vander Velden.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, the Vander Veldens will likely not be able to meet with the team in person for a while, but hope to be able to make the trip up to Jane Sanders Stadium from their home in Douglas County, Ore., sometime down the road. But for now, they are more than happy to be a part of the program from home and are excited to support the team from afar heading into the 2021 season.
"We waited over a year to get a pairing so it was so amazing to find out that we got paired with Oregon softball," said Celia Vander Velden. "She's a resilient little warrior and has overcome so many obstacles and has gone through so many things that most people don't have to go through.
The Vander Veldens have also established a Facebook page to help people learn more about Calypso's journey as well as raise awareness for SMA in general.