By Vin Gallo
Bianca Raniolo shuffled over to Stagg Field for practice, eyes locked to the pavement with her equipment and stick at her side. She was dragging her feet a bit. It had been a long, tough day of classes to cap off a week that had been even tougher.
The 2017 Springfield College women’s lacrosse team was in the midst of shaking off a 3-4 March record, and had its seventh straight away game penciled in for that weekend, a tilt against MIT up in Cambridge.
Raniolo passed through Stagg’s black metal overhead. The team already had its game day playlist blaring, Madcon’s Don’t Worry bouncing off the townhouse’s crimson facing.
Then, through the pop song’s zingy beat, rode a loud, cheery voice along the early spring breeze. The call struck Raniolo’s ears, suddenly but delightfully, like a post game Gatorade bath, and gave the graduate attacker’s heart a big hug.
Raniolo couldn’t help but smile, the day’s chagrins immediately melting away. She knew, without looking, who that voice belonged to. And she knew it had come from a beaming face.
It can be confirmed by many on campus, that the woman who called out to Raniolo has a way with spreading an intoxicating aura of positivity. Born from a tight knit family, and a childhood energy that captivated an entire town, her voice has its way of lifting anyone from being down in the dumps.
Who else, but Allie Goddard.
“I’ve told her this before, she’s definitely someone who got me and I’m sure many other people through so many of the tough practices,” said Raniolo.
The girl who amped Acton
Jon and Susan Goddard knew from the start that they had a little ball of energy in their youngest of four children. There is their oldest, Liz, who was quiet, yet sported a dominant lacrosse career at the high school level. Then there are the Goddard’s two sons, Jonny and Matty, who played basketball.
But Allie, the youngest by six years, could not stop moving. The little girl loved to dance, and loved the spotlight even more. So, the family would always crowd around her and watch Allie cut the rug to ABBA’s Dancing Queen.
All the attention his younger sister was drawing did not sit well with a six year old Matty Goddard. Allie earned a nickname used mainly by her family, when Matty decided to visit his sister in her crib.
“You think you’re so cool, huh Big Al?”
“Al” adapted quickly to life as a sister of three athletes. Whether watching her brothers ball out on the hardwood or her sister fly up and down the field as a Bentley Falcon, Goddard was there. It’s often a pastime the younger sibling has no choice but to participate in. But it was clear that Goddard would not be the silent witness on the sidelines, and instead cement herself as Acton’s biggest superfan, cheering them on in her pure, five year old voice and energy that became a hit with the Goddard’s spectating family and friends.
“She got to know all the parents of the town, all of her brothers’ and sister’s friends,” said Jon. “At the age of five and six years old, she seemed like the mayor of the town.”
After a few years watching Liz play lacrosse, Allie picked it up herself in the fourth grade. Whenever Liz was home, the two would practice attacking past dark, with Jonny and Matty serving as the defense, their parents looking on from the porch.
Goddard made Acton-Boxborough High School’s varsity team as a freshman. But her impact on the other kids would stretch beyond the field.
Goddard’s mother, Susan, worked as a transition teacher in Acton-Boxborough High School’s special education program. Every morning, her students would witness ‘Mrs. G’ remind her daughter to tone down the volume. A boisterous “hello” followed by cheerful chatter was sure to resonate in any of the hallways blessed by Goddard’s presence.
“Al,” her mother would call out from her classroom, “my entire class knows what you’re up to today.”
“Mom!” Goddard would answer. “All the teachers know they need to shut their doors when I’m in the hallway!”
Goddard never settled for herself alone to be outgoing and upbeat. She wanted her happiness to spread to her friends. And according to Jon, she was friends with, quite literally, the entire school.
“She’s so unique. I’ve never met a person like her to be honest,” her father said. “She picks people up. Her friends were as diverse as you could possibly imagine. Usually kids that age hang out with other kids who do the things that they do. It was great to see Al bring people together, from star athletes to students with special needs. She’s treated everyone with this unique positive energy her whole life.”
“Hey Matty Man”
Goddard will always call her brother Matty a miracle. What began as a normal day late in Goddard’s 2014 school year, would be the start of a long scare, with an even lengthier recovery process. It was the end of her junior season with Acton-Boxborough. The Colonials girls lacrosse team was locked into a state tournament battle with rival _. A faint chopping of a med flight became ominously audible within minutes. Wind swept across the venue as the helicopter landed only yards away, chasing the boys lacrosse team from their practice field. Goddard stood there with her teammates, with play having been stopped. They all looked on, in a silent, slightly unnerved wonder, puzzling at what the flight could be for.
After the game, Goddard was approached by her athletic director. It had been for Matty. After spending the day as an assistant teacher at Acton-Boxborough, he had decided to go longboarding with a friend, intending to eventually meet up with his parents at Allie’s lacrosse game. Riding down a hill at a significant speed, Matty fell backwards off his longboard on a sharp turn. He wasn’t wearing a helmet, and suffered a traumatic brain injury.
He was lifted to the hospital where he was put into an induced coma for eight days. Doctors would need to remove part of Matty’s skull in order to allow the brain to swell. His chances of surviving were beyond slim.
“Seeing what [my parents] son went through, what my brother went through, it made our family even closer,” said Allie. “I don’t know how they did it. They would go to the hospital at six in the morning and come home at 10 at night. I didn’t see them for two months, really.”
After days of unrest, Matty came to, and started his recovery process. He had survived. It would take months to recover, but Matty pulled through, and credited his family with help on his comeback.
“If it weren’t for my family I wouldn’t have recovered the way that I did,” he said. “I’m so grateful for [them]. More than grateful. I can’t put it into words, the gratitude that I have toward them. When I got home, they were my team.”
During the stay at the hospital, Matty also received frequent visits from the girl he once dubbed ‘Big Al.’ His sister. Seemingly every other day, Al was there, looking to pick her brother up.
“Hey Matty Man!”
Goddard wasn’t about to leave her big brother hanging. “I made sure I went to visit [Matty] every other day. I just tried being myself, and he’d be like, ‘oh God, my sister’s crazy!’”
It was all in good fun. Matty appreciated his sister’s support.
“It was all really nice of her,” he said. “She was rooting me on like how she cheers on the basketball team or her teammates everyday, whether that was at home or at my therapy sessions.”
Following her brother pulling through his injuries, Goddard’s positive outlook on life grew only brighter.
“[His accident] was probably the biggest thing [that impacted me],” she reflected. “He had a 0.01 percent chance of living. And he lived. Obviously it was awful at the time, but he’s doing good now. He’s such a miracle that in a way, so much good came from so much bad. It made me stronger. Now I know that if you don’t start a game, it’s no big deal [because] there’s so many bigger problems in the world. You have bad games, there’s going to be times when you don’t catch a ball when you know you can, but that’s the big picture – you [have to] know you can.”
Leaving Acton was tough for Goddard. After 18 years she had grown fond of her town of 20,000 people. More so however, she’d miss her family terribly. Throughout her childhood, Goddard had never done any real overnight anywhere outside of Acton. She had never attended a summer camp of any kind.
“I didn’t want to leave my parents because of the incident with my brother and because I was close with my family,” Goddard said. “I’ve never disliked a grade [of school] – like middle school [for instance], I just kind of made middle school what it was, I just went there and loved every single grade. I made the experience of [growing up in Acton] a great one, I had to leave my friends, leave my family.”
Though it wouldn’t take her long to settle in. Much like the Colonials of Acton-Boxborough, Goddard immediately connected with her Pride teammates.
“She’s so funny – every practice we’d be laughing at something that she says,” said Raniolo. “If you ask anybody on the team, what sticks with me is that even if coach is explaining something or if we’re in the huddle, if Allie makes a joke, you can never get mad at her. Ever. You can’t. It’s Allie.”
Goddard keeps in touch with all of her friends, especially Ben. Ben, who has Down-Syndrome, texts Allie every day, and remains one of her best friends. Goddard hopes to one day follow in the footsteps of her mom, Susan, as a special education teacher.
When you’re with kids with disabilities, all problems go away because they’re so happy about life,” she explained. “I’ve always wanted to look out for someone who wanted a friend because I love making new ones. I wanted the norms to just go away. Everyone walks a different path of life, why can’t we all be friends?’”
Matty Goddard believes his sister is destined to teach.
“[Kids with disabilities] they just gravitate toward her,” he said. “She has that talent. She knows how to make them the center of the world. It’s a very rare quality, and it’s a beautiful thing. Not many know how to do it.”
Goddard couldn’t be happier on Alden Street. After coming together with her family in support of her brother, and continuing her efforts to touch as many lives as possible, Goddard lives to spread joy.
“You just have to go with the flow and leave everything at your door,” she said. “That’s what I try to do in the morning, I’ll tell myself ‘I’m going to have a positive attitude today’ because I know it can rub off on people. You don’t want to forget about problems you have but it’s important to live your life and live in the moment. Sometimes it takes something impactful [for better or worse] for someone to realize how lucky they are.”
People back at Acton miss Goddard’s liveliness, but are proud of how far the little girl in the stands has come. To this day, Goddard hasn’t stopped cheering.
She’s just so open to being with anyone,” said Brenna Keefe, Goddard’s current and former teammate at Acton-Boxborough High School. “That’s who she is. She’s always been a great, positive person, always willing to take a chance and have fun.”