Sports Women's Sports

Off the field delivery: How Arielle Johnson gives back to the hospital that saved her life

By Braedan Shea

Coming into its game against Smith College on March 26, the Springfield College women’s lacrosse team knew it was a big one. Not only were they coming off of a tough loss to No. 18 Trinity and looking to right the ship, but it was also senior day.

Through the downpouring rain, the Pride powered through and got the victory in a crushing blowout, 20-7. On top of the win, some of the celebrated seniors and graduate students were able to find the back of the net on this special day – including graduate attacker Taylor Pichel, graduate midfielder Jade O’Connor and senior attacker Anjelia Altebrando. 

Amongst those upperclassmen that scored, there was one uncanny commonality between them – each of those players were able to get open looks thanks to beautiful, threading the needle feeds from junior attacker Arielle Johnson, who, by games end, tallied six assists – five of which were to those three. Knowing how important this day was for her upperclassmen, Johnson did everything that she could to deliver. 

Off the field, Johnson can also be seen delivering. Along with gifting her teammate’s perfect passes, she gives fleece-tied blankets to kids in need at the endocrinology department of UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Mass. 

It all dates back to when she was just a freshman in high school. After months of being sick, and not having any idea of what it could be, doctors at the UMass Memorial Medical Center were finally able to pinpoint what was wrong with Johnson. They found that she suffers from an extremely rare condition known as Addison’s disease, where the adrenal glands produce too little cortisol. 

Even after being diagnosed, it still took nearly a year for doctors to find the correct dosage to get rid of Johnson’s symptoms of fatigue, lack of energy and nausea. Once they succeeded, she wanted to give back to those that helped her so much. So, with the help of a family tradition, that is exactly what she did. 

“Growing up, my grandma always made me fleece-tied blankets, then she passed that down to my mom, and so I also grew up knowing how to make them,” said Johnson. “We thought that would be a good easy way to contribute by donating the blankets. I think a year after I was diagnosed, my sophomore year of high school, I started making them and donating them.”

The first time that she had donated blankets, it was around 10 in total. Now, nearly eight years later, that number has blossomed to 50 for each of the two trips she makes a year.

The influx in blankets donated comes from more people generously helping Johnson in making them. The list includes not only her family, but also friends, roommates, and even the entire women’s lacrosse team. This past fall, on the campus tennis courts, the team came together to join her in making as many blankets as they could. 

“In the span of about an hour and a half, our team made about 20 [blankets],” said Johnson. “That was awesome, because it was the most I’ve ever made in that short amount of time, and was almost the most we ever donated for Christmas. I think we had almost 60.” 

Although they do take a little bit of time, the blankets aren’t that hard to make, according to Johnson, and she wants to make sure that there is one for everyone. 

“There’s no sewing, you don’t have to be crafty or anything. You just tie them together,” she said. “Also, we try to cater towards everyone’s interests. You can have anything from sports to flowers – we even make Disney ones. I try to make sure that there are not two that are the same, like there’s 50 of them but they’re all different patterns or stuff.”

Johnson is able to donate all of these blankets to the place she was diagnosed because of a child life specialist that works in the endocrinology unit, the very one that Johnson is a part of as a patient.

“Her name is Nicole. I’ve been working with her for the past eight years, and I just coordinate with her when I’m going, then she takes them away in these big carts,” Johnson said. “They’re also used in the oncology department too. So, for kids with cancer who come in for infusions, they also use the blankets for that.”

It was people like this that gave Johnson the inspiration to give back.

“Although it was a pretty scary time for me [at the hospital], I met some pretty awesome people,” she said. “I love my doctors and nurses, and I think they kind of inspired me to kind of give back to the other kids who might be going through similar things to me.”

Whether she is setting up teammates with perfect passes on their big day or donating fleece-tied blankets to those just like her, it is apparent that Johnson has mastered the art of delivery.

Photo: Arielle Johnson

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