Caroline Naeve is what the Ladies Football Academy is all about.
The bright eyes and wide smile worn by the three-and-a-half year old from Clinton represents the thousands of children who have benefitted from the skill and care provided at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, the benefactor of proceeds from the one-day academy which provides participants with a chance to experience life as an Iowa football player.
Naeve is the honorary captain for this year’s event, scheduled for June 9 at the Iowa football complex and Kinnick Stadium.
She’ll join her extended family – parents, other family members, doctors and nurses and participating Hawkeye football players – at a team dinner the night before this year’s camp and will join other past honorary captains with the ladies attending this year’s academy.
“To see the kids come back and see how they’ve grown, how active and healthy they are, it’s heartwarming,’’ said Mary Ferentz, who chairs the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital Council which organizes the event.
Naeve’s story is representative of individuals selected as honorary captains for the event in past years.
An echocardiogram shortly after she was born in Bettendorf revealed an undiagnosed congenital heart defect. The two main arteries that carry blood to the heart were reversed and surgery to restore adequate blood flow to the rest of the body was needed on the day of Naeve’s birth.
She was airlifted to Iowa City from the Quad-Cities, where Naeve received a Rashkind procedure where a catheter with a balloon was threaded through a vein to create a hole between the walls of the heart so oxygenated blood was able to reach the entire body.
Two days after her birth, she underwent life-saving open heart surgery.
Her prognosis is excellent and in nearly every way she lives the life of a normal three-year-old.
A recent diagnosis of juvenile idiopathic arthritis has brought Naeve back to Children’s Hospital for treatment under the care of the rheumatology team there.
Naeve is among children who benefit from the dollars raised by the Ladies Football Academy, now in its eighth year and expected to surpass the $2 million milestone in funds raised this year.
“When we started, we had no idea where it all would lead but we did know how good the people of Iowa are and how much good the hospital has done over the years,’’ said Ferentz, the wife of Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz.
“You can’t go anywhere in the state without running into someone who hasn’t had a personal interaction with the Children’s Hospital or knows somebody who does.’’
The group’s first $1 million was targeted to raise money for a new facility which opened the last fall. The second $1 million, including more than $800,000 already raised, is being donated to fund pediatric medicine research at the hospital.
“The dollars raised by our participants are making a difference not only now, but into the future,’’ Ferentz said.
This year’s camp will run from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and participants will spend the day with Iowa players and coaches, learn about the game and experience what it’s like to be a Hawkeye.
For participants, the day includes access to the Hansen Football Performance Center, including a strength, conditioning and nutrition presentation in the Hawkeye weight room.
From there, the group receives a tour of locker room facilities at Kinnick Stadium, a chance to “swarm’’ onto the turf to “Back in Black’’ in Hawkeye style and later, a chance to participate in offensive and defensive drills with Iowa players and coaches.
“There’s no such thing as being too old or too out of shape to take part. Participants can do as much or as little as they like when it comes to the physical drills. It’s all up to them,’’ Ferentz said.
“It’s also a great chance to meet and get to talk with and be around the players who volunteer their time. No helmets, no pads, just a chance to get to know the guys who are out there on Saturdays in the fall.’’
The camp is open to women ages 18 or older and registration is $50 per person, with an additional $500 donation to the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital required.
All proceeds go to the hospital and the organization’s registration website, iowaladiesfootballacademy.com, includes a link to an online donation service to help participants raise their $500 donation.
The academy typically attracts around 400 participants and registration is open on a first-come, first-served basis.