Karaline Apoian likes lacrosse, but her father told her that if she wanted to play, she needed to respect the game’s indigenous origin and its traditions – especially its power to heal.
Karaline, 11, took that advice to heart when tragedy struck one of her favorite players on the Georgia Swarm, a professional lacrosse team playing out of Gwinnett County.
The Apoians of Forsyth County are fans and season ticket holders. Karaline likes to go to the games early to watch team warmups and meet the players. She sometimes makes funny signs to encourage them. The Swarm plays box lacrosse in the East Division of the National Lacrosse League with home games at the Gas South Arena in Duluth.
During a game earlier this year, Karaline noticed that goalie Craig Wende didn’t run out of the tunnel with his teammates before the game started. Her father, Patrick Apoian, also remembered that Wende wasn’t at the game before when the Swarm played on the road. He wondered if Wende was hurt or had been traded.
After the team ran out, announcers asked for a moment of silence, and the scoreboard lit up, “Avery Tessa Wende.”
They later learned that Avery, the daughter of Craig and Heather Wende, was born four months premature on Feb. 24, weighing 1 pound 3 ounces. Sadly, she died on March 3.
Karaline said she felt sad and wanted to send a sympathy card, but her father encouraged her to think outside the box. Lacrosse is called the medicine game, he told her, with healing powers that nourish the body, soul and spirit.
“He said we’ve got to do something that touches the heart,” Karaline said.
She decided to dedicate her youth lacrosse season to Avery. Karaline wrote “A.W.” on her lacrosse stick and committed to donating $5 for every goal she scores to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
Apoian encouraged his daughter to challenge others to do the same through #GoalsForAvery.
They made a short video of Karaline explaining #GoalsForAvery and asking other lacrosse players, from high school to professional, to donate for every goal or other game statistic they choose to a children’s hospital in the U.S. or Canada.
“We want to remember Avery and help the Wende family heal,” she said in the post.
They put the video on social media, and to Karaline’s surprise, it “blew up” with responses.
“I didn’t think it would go this viral, but I’m really happy it did,” said the fifth-grader. “It’s just more recognition. Avery’s name is going to keep going around.”
Since then, the National Lacrosse League has posted a story about the challenge, and Georgia Swarm is keeping track of donations on its website. In addition, the team invited Karaline to a team warmup so Wende could thank her in person. She also ran out of the tunnel with him in the game.
Apoian said the Swarm organization has been “incredible” with its support for the Wende family and the #GoalsForAvery challenge. He hopes it will continue into the outdoor lacrosse season in the summer and fall. The intent is to help any children’s hospital or organization that benefits kids who are sick, such as the Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Karaline will send in her donations to Children’s at the end of her season, with her father and a professional lacrosse player adding to the amount. Others on her youth team are also participating with their own pledges. Apoian said as people learn of the challenge on social media, or word of mouth, they want to make donations in Avery’s name.
“The indigenous people gave us the game of lacrosse, but they always called it the medicine game for its healing or its ability to help heal during tough times,” Apoian said. “There’s no really greater example than something like this.”
Join in on #GoalsForAvery at georgiaswarm.com.
Either match Karaline’s total goals at the end of her season or come up with a tracker of your own.
When the lacrosse season is completed, donate to any children’s hospital in Avery Wende’s name. Donations to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta can be made at give.choa.org.