Second-year Palmer Ridge High School baseball coach Jason Heidel recently presented his team a challenge, an off-the-field test that had nothing to do with sports.
It had everything to do with day-to-day struggles that most don’t have to endure.
Then, on the afternoon of April 20, the Bears presented little Havana Gilbert, a 3-year-old Colorado Springs resident and Make-A-Wish recipient, and her family with a check worth $1,202 to help her family enjoy a trip to Disney World in Orlando, Fla., later this week.
Havana, born with a deformed heart valve, was referred to a local hospice at just 5 days of age. But she kept fighting, survived through three surgeries in her first three months and then received a donated heart. On this day, the rambunctious toddler threw out the first pitch and also was given a stuffed animal, pink cape and Palmer Ridge baseball cap.
“Palmer Ridge was working with Make-A-Wish, and we thought it would be great to continue with that,” Heidel said. “I presented my team with a challenge, and they responded.”
At last count, the Bears had raised $1,430, which included funds raised during the April 20 game against Liberty.
The challenge was embraced by the team.
“We take things for granted on a daily basis,” said senior Charlie Deeds, one of the team captains. “She’s been through a lot and doesn’t complain. I couldn’t imagine my childhood, having to go through that. It does put things in perspective for all of us.”
It certainly helped the Gilbert family, which also includes Havana’s parents, Nicole and Jason and 2-year-old brother Ryker, a deserved respite from the struggles of daily life.
“This has been such a blessing to our family,” said Nicole, who recently located to northern Colorado Springs from Centennial in suburban Denver. “Havana has been practicing three weeks to throw the big pitch. Just the outpouring from the community is amazing.”
Make-A-Wish Colorado has granted more than 5,200 wishes since 1983 and made 272 come true just last year. Children who qualify for a wish are between the ages of 2 ½ and 18 and have been diagnosed with a critical illness by their doctor, but not with a necessarily terminal disease.
In fact, many kids who are granted wishes overcome their medical conditions and go on to lead strong, healthy lives.
That’s the hope for Havana, who will celebrate her fourth birthday with hopes a Happy Birthday serenade from Mickey Mouse.
The Bears just seemed happy to help.
“It’s important to give back to the community,” Heidel said. “I left it up to the captains, and this is what they wanted to do and thought it would be great to continue working with Make-A-Wish. I have a really good group of boys who realize there’s more to life than playing baseball.
And now, the team has a new fan.
“When we’re on the highway and we pass through Monument, she points out the window when we see Palmer Ridge,” Nicole said. “She says ‘That’s my school. Those are my friends.’”