Tech basketball players bring forth smiles on hospital visit

By Jimmy Robertson

ROANOKE, Va. – Done with exams that marked the conclusion of the fall semester, Virginia Tech men’s basketball player Greg Donlon and a couple of his teammates obviously felt a sense of relief.

Instead of pursuing more traditional means to unwind, however, they agreed to a different approach – one that ultimately brought joy to a group of people dealing with unfortunate circumstances here during the holiday season.

In a visit that was coordinated by the athletics department’s Office of Student-Athlete Development, Donlon, Matt Galloway and Nick Fullard traveled to Roanoke and spent a portion of last Thursday afternoon visiting with the patients and families in the pediatric unit at Carilion Children’s, a part of the extensive Carilion Clinic medical services network that focuses on medical care for young children.

Fitting with the season, the trio donned toy antlers and went from room to room, handing out small gifts, and more importantly, conversing and joking with the kids.

“This meant a lot to me,” Galloway said afterward. “I’ve always wanted to do something like this and never thought I’d have the opportunity to do it. It definitely was overwhelming. It was nice to see the kids and put some smiles on their faces.”

The group visited approximately a dozen kids and their families. According to its website, Carilion Children’s contains 92 beds and a staff of more than 350 professionals trained for the caring of children and infants.

The pediatric unit at Carilion Children’s contains 24 hospital beds in the general area and another eight in the intensive care unit. Donlon, Galloway and Fullard visited both sections and met children being treated for a wide array of health issues, those ranging from cancer, asthma, diabetes and so forth.

Most student-athletes tend to be reserved in such settings, but not these three, and certainly not Donlon, who has visited pediatric care units in the past.

“My mom [Kim] is neonatal nurse practitioner, so I’ve visited her at work and seen settings similar to this,” Donlon said. “It’s always good to have people come in and spread some joy and have a conversation with people. It lets them get away a little bit and gets their mind off of whatever their situation may be, no matter how bad it is. It’s nice to have someone come in and try to relate to them and have a little conversation with them. Even if it’s only for a couple of minutes, I think it goes a long way.”

Arguably the best scene of the day was Donlon holding an infant who couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old. The mother took a photo and appeared to enjoy the conversation. In another room, the players asked a little girl about her favorite sport. She said she was more into cheerleading, so they gave her an extra set of pom-poms.

Their gifts include Virginia Tech-themed miniature basketballs, pom-poms, rulers and posters. They signed numerous autographs as well.

“Things that you may have taken for granted, things that you may not have thought a lot about, you definitely think about those things when you come here,” Fullard said. “It makes you aware of what other people are experiencing, and you start to be thankful for the things that you have in your life.”

The visit reaffirmed the great side of athletics. Other Tech teams have gone on similar visits, and Carilion officials said that players from the Salem Red Sox, the local minor league baseball team, visited recently. They also expect players from the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs, the local minor league hockey team, to come in soon for a visit.

With their public platforms, athletes can bring joy to those dealing with serious circumstances. Just as important, such deeds bring value and perspective to their own lives.

“Sometimes, this time of year, a lot of emphasis gets put on material things and gifts,” Donlon said. “I think it’s important to remember that that isn’t the important part of all of this. It’s really about the giving spirit.

“It’s not about giving material things, or things that are worth money. It’s about things such as emotional support and spreading joy and kindness. To be able to get to do that in an setting like this … it’s incredibly rewarding.”

For updates on Virginia Tech men's basketball, follow the Hokies on Twitter

HokieSports Shop