|Birth: ||Apr. 20, 2002|
|Death: ||Feb. 14, 2008|
Tribune-Review (Greensburg, PA) - October 24, 2008
Deceased Name: Grace Ekis : Norwin girls soccer team's locker room contains tribute to friend
Mounted on a wall in the girls locker room in Norwin's new field house, prominently displayed near the lockers of Norwin's senior and junior soccer players, is a plaque and glass-enclosed case on which rests a large blue teddy bear next to a pair of muddied, children's size 10 black Adidas soccer cleats, with three pink stripes.
While too small to be worn by any member of the Knights' squad, those cleats hold a special place in the hearts of the current players.
Those tiny cleats belonged to Grace Ekis, who passed away on Feb. 14, two months shy of her sixth birthday, from DIPG (diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma), a branch-like tumor on the stem of the brain, explained Grace's mother, Tamara.
Grace was diagnosed with DIPG, which affects children ages 3 to 10, in January 2007 and underwent six weeks of radiation and oral chemotherapy.
"Grace's doctors at Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh explained that they don't know the cause," Tamara Ekis said, "but their best guess is that a gene mutates. Fewer than 200 children per year in the United Stats are affected by this type of tumor. Doctors indicated that it is rare, like being struck by lightning."
Yet, despite her illness, Grace continued to play the game she loved, playing in the spring of 2007 for the Tiny Kickers in the Norwin Soccer program, as well as the U-6 (under age 6) team.
Along with horses, the color pink, dancing, and princesses, soccer was one of Grace's passions.
"Grace did well with her illness throughout the summer," Tamara Ekis added, "and she even learned to swim."
But even though an MRI in September 2007 indicated the tumor was growing, Grace's condition did not keep her off the field. Her final game was on Tournament Day in November 2007.
One month earlier, on Oct. 23, 2007, however, through efforts of the Norwin Soccer Club, Grace was invited to meet the Norwin girls soccer team in the high school field house locker room.
"Grace thought it was special that they invited her to meet everyone," her mother said. "She thought it was really neat to meet the high school players. When she walked into the locker room, the players were waiting for her. Grace was not usually shy about a situation like that, but the moment she saw everyone she backed up a couple steps. One of the girls took her around the locker room to see the lockers and pictures of the players."
Norwin senior soccer player Amanda Cotherman was in the locker room when Grace visited the team.
"We were all touched by her," Cotherman said. "She was so excited to see us, and she looked up to us, but it was the team who looked up to her because of how brave she was when she was going through such a rough time. I've had older relatives pass away from cancer, but I've never experienced such a young child being so ill. It's hard to understand what she was going through. Being with her and talking with her and showing her around the locker room was especially touching."
Cotherman added that the team presented a 2007 team camp shirt to Grace and said "she was very excited and happy to have it. On game days we wear the 2008 shirt dedicated to Grace in school, and it reminds all of us about how strong Grace was."
During Grace's illness, visitors presented her with toys and stuffed animals, including the large teddy bear.
After Grace passed away, her mother was concerned about how children Grace's age would react when they visited the funeral home to pay their respects, so Tamara Ekis' friends helped put friendship tags on the toys and stuffed animals.
"We allowed the kids to take a toy or stuffed animal with them," Tamara Ekis explained. "The girls soccer team came in wearing their soccer shirts and one player took the teddy bear that is in the memorial case in the locker room."
Shortly after school started in September, Grace's parents and brothers visited the locker room to see the memorial, which includes a photo of Grace, as well as a photo of Grace surrounded by team members.
"At that point Tamara Ekis presented us with something very special, Grace's soccer spikes, still having mud on them from when Grace last played," said Dana Ferry, Norwin girls soccer coach. "Those spikes are now in the display case with the Teddy Bear. Our dedication to Grace is a small gesture to a family that has been through so much, so much more than I can ever imagine."
But Norwin's locker room memorial is not the only way in which the team honored Grace this season.
Norwin's players are literally wearing Grace's inspiration on their sleeves.
"Our team shirt represents a theme for that particular season and is worn very proudly by our players," Ferry continued. "We have been doing this for a number of years and the unveiling of the shirt is a much anticipated event for the players. This year, the players requested that we include a dedication on the shirt for Grace."
Along with a team photo on the front of the gray shirt and the "team code" on the back, one sleeve has a "Norwin 50 Celebration" emblem, symbolizing the 50th anniversary of the district. On the other sleeve is written "In Memory of Grace Ekis," along with a red rose. Produced with screen printing, the dedication to Grace is approximately 3 inches high and 3 inches wide, taking up the better part of the sleeve, Ferry noted.
"I think of Grace every day," Tamara Ekis said. "When we first saw the shirts, my husband, Brian, family, and I were very touched, knowing the high school girls are thinking of Grace as well."
Tribune-Review (Greensburg, PA)
Date: October 24, 2008
Record Number: 594641
Copyright (c) 2008, Tribune-Review Publishing Co.
Tribune-Review (Greensburg, PA) - February 16, 2008
Deceased Name: Grace Ekis : North Huntingdon child's indomitable spirit 'will live on in so many'
Five-year-old Grace Ekis showed such determination that she insisted on going to dance class earlier this month even though she was in a wheelchair battling cancer.
Knowing she was limited in her movement, the kindergarten student mustered the courage to tap her feet and move her arms.
"She fought so long and so hard and was determined to do the very best that she could do," said Grace's mother, Tamara. "Her spirit did not want to give up. I told her her spirit will live on in so many people."
Grace Ekis, daughter of Tamara and Brian Ekis of North Huntingdon, died Thursday, Feb. 14, 2008, at her home.
Faith in God, prayers, cards and many other kind gestures have sustained the Ekis family since Grace was diagnosed in January 2007 with pontine glioma, a tumor in the brain stem. The location of the tumor made it inoperable.
Tamara Ekis said Grace not only amazed family and friends, but astounded her doctors as well. They often commented on how Grace was not following the typical cycle of how the disease affects a child, she said.
"They would say, 'Grace is being Grace,' " Tamara Ekis said.
The community rallied around the family, and her fight with cancer spurred many fundraising efforts, including a lemonade stand organized by neighborhood children.
As many as 1,500 registered visitors to her CarePages Web site have tuned in to her updates from as far away as England, Australia, Japan and Alaska.
At the 2007 Relay for Life at Norwin High School during the summer, Grace was invited to cut the ribbon. She led participants onto the track and led the final lap of the 24-hour event.
Grace's team -- Amazing Grace -- helped the American Cancer Society surpass its goals of increasing the number of teams and participants in the relay. The team attracted more than 100 people who came throughout the event to show their support.
The memory of that last lap remains a cherished one for Denise Martin, chairwoman of the event.
Wearing a tiara, a princess sash and carrying a wand, Grace walked the last lap with Martin.
When Grace realized they were walking side by side, she held out her wand as if to tell Martin to walk a step behind the leader, she said.
"I thought that was rather funny," Martin recalled. "Even now she can still make me laugh."
Martin described Grace as an "amazing young lady" with "a sparkle and gleam in her eye."
"That little girl touched so many lives," Martin said. "You couldn't help but be inspired by what she had to offer."
In addition to her parents, survivors include brothers, Colin and Garrett; grandparents, the Rev. Thomas L. and Narda Funk, of White Oak; and great-grandmother Evelyn Asson, of Munhall. She was preceded in death by grandparents Henry and Adele Ekis, and great-grandmother Florence Fondak.
Friends will be received from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 3 and 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday at the William Snyder Funeral Home, 521 Main St., Irwin. A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at Calvary United Methodist Church, 971 Beech Ave., North Side. Interment will follow in Round Hill Cemetery, Elizabeth Township.
The family suggests memorial donations to the Child Life Department of Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, 3705 Fifth Ave., G-600 MT, Pittsburgh, PA 15213.
Tribune-Review (Greensburg, PA)
Date: February 16, 2008
Record Number: 552686
Copyright (c) 2008, Tribune-Review Publishing Co.
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