Thursday, June 21, 2018
Sports

University of Tampa volleyball makes Steinbrenner junior honorary teammate University of Tampa volleyball makes Steinbrenner junior honorary teammate

TAMPA — The latest member of the University of Tampa's volleyball program is trilingual, having taught herself Spanish and sign language. She loves reading, painting and ceramics. One day, she hopes to become a neonatologist.

And for nearly five years, she has suffered from complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), a rare disease of the sympathetic nervous system, which causes constant intense nerve pain. She also has a handful of other medical maladies, including nerve, tissue and digestive disorders.

She's Natalia Rijos, 17, a junior at Steinbrenner High School who was thrilled Sept. 28 when she "signed" to join UT's volleyball team. It's all part of Team IMPACT, an organization that helps children with life-threatening and chronic illnesses by making them part of college athletic programs.

The idea is for the charismatic Rijos to be inspired by the work ethic, teamwork and camaraderie of Spartan volleyball players. But who's the real inspiration?

"There are probably days we take things for granted or even complain about what we deal with, but the truth is we get to play volleyball, go to college and it's all a privilege," said UT sophomore middle blocker Taylor Fosler. "I have a feeling that Natalia is going to impact us in a way we don't even know. It will be profound."

"We have all done some volunteer activities and they were great, but this is a really cool opportunity," said UT senior libero Kasey Reynolds. "She's coming to us. She's part of our team. She will be our friend and she will see how we do things here. She's part of us now."

On the so-called "Draft Day," Rijos went to the UT campus with her mother, Myrna Concepcion, and younger sister Isabella.

It had all the trappings of a signing day ceremony. Rijos signed a national letter of intent. She was presented with a UT Spartans team shirt and a dozen red roses. Reynolds and UT coach Chris Catanach formally welcomed her to the team.

Rijos, who uses a wheelchair, will have several pre-arranged opportunities to be part of UT volleyball events, such as practices and games.

"I think this can be life-changing for kids who never had the experience of doing something like this," coach Catanach said. "We all get caught up in our lives and how tough we have it. Then you meet somebody who has it so much harder. You realize we have it so good. And it all becomes so much better when we can reach out and help."

Rijos' mother said she already has been touched by the dedication and sensitivity of the UT volleyball players.

"Natalia is beginning an amazing journey, new relationships with these players, and she is very excited about it," Concepcion said. "It's hard for Natalia with all she goes through. But these players, they all want to know Natalia on a personal level. They are beautiful souls. This has given us all such an amazing boost."

Concepcion said keeping up with her daughter's medical care is a full-time job. Beyond that, Concepcion recently brought to Tampa some family members who suffered devastating damage during Hurricane Maria in their native Puerto Rico.

"All you can do is go day by day, try your best and rely on your faith," she said. "There are some days when it seems like a lot. But you keep going."

Rijos describes her pain as "burning and stabbing" sensations. The sensitivity of her extremities can make a stiff wind seem like knives are being shot through her body.

Concepcion marvels at her daughter's strength and toughness, qualities that are often associated with athletes. As Rijos gets a glance into UT volleyball's athletic world, the players said in turn they will receive some healthy perspective on what really matters in life.

"When you get right down to it, all of us should be trying to do the best we can with what we have," Reynolds said. "In that way, we're kind of all the same. We should all try to help each other. It will be great to have Natalia with us and I think we're all going to learn a lot."

Comments
Rick Stroud weighs in on report about possible Jameis Winston suspension

Rick Stroud weighs in on report about possible Jameis Winston suspension

Tampa Bay Times beat reporter Rick Stroud isn't buying an ESPN radio report that any suspension levied against Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston by the NFL would stem from Winston's failure to report an alleged incident between him and a female Ub...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Missed time a good mental reset for Rays’ Matt Duffy

Missed time a good mental reset for Rays’ Matt Duffy

ST. PETERSBURG — Missing all of 2017 might have been the absolute worst thing for Matt Duffy.Frustratingly idled as he eventually recovered and rehabbed from ongoing left heel issues, he couldn't play the game he loved, couldn't show the Rays o...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tampa Bay Times’ all-North Suncoast girls basketball team

Tampa Bay Times’ all-North Suncoast girls basketball team

North Suncoast Player of the Year: India Lewis, Sr., FivayFirst teamG Jayde Doucette, Sr., River RidgeG Reagan Huden, Sr., SpringsteadF Andrea Wallace, Sr., SunlakeG/F Ices Utegg, So., River RidgeF/C Seytia Hill, Jr., Weeki WacheeSecond teamG Lyndsey...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: When will we know about possible Jameis Winston suspension?

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: When will we know about possible Jameis Winston suspension?

Rick Stroud talks about when we will know about a possible Jameis Winston suspension and why DeSean Jackson hasn't been more productive with the Bucs on today's podcast.Plus, who might the Rays trade next? Will the Lightning make any b...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Rays journal: 7 pitches, 3 straight homers prove too much in loss to Astros

Rays journal: 7 pitches, 3 straight homers prove too much in loss to Astros

HOUSTON — The Rays were engaged in a third straight tight, go-either-way battle with the defending champ Astros on Wednesday.Until they were not.A brutal seven-pitch sequence by starter Nathan Eovaldi changed everything, as he gave up three con...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Tampa Bay Times’ all-Hillsborough County girls basketball team

Tampa Bay Times’ all-Hillsborough County girls basketball team

Player of the Year: Kaliah Henderson, Jr., RobinsonFirst teamG Brylee Bartram, Jr., Seffner ChristianG Jacquelyn LeVay, Sr., AlonsoF/G Tarriyonna Gary, So., Carrollwood DayF Tiasia McMillan, So., Carrollwood DayC Kendal Cheesman, Fr., PlantSecond tea...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Rays see the results of keeping a good, young core group together

Rays see the results of keeping a good, young core group together

HOUSTON — The Rays saw a lot on the weeklong trip that ended with Wednesday's game against that Astros, beyond the street hustlers prowling in Times Square and the urban cowboys and girls parading through H-town.There was an impressive debuting...
Published: 06/20/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Kevin Knox poised to become Tampa Bay’s highest NBA draft pick

Kevin Knox poised to become Tampa Bay’s highest NBA draft pick

Kevin Knox Sr. was watching the NFL draft 24 years ago when the phone rang. Buffalo coach Marv Levy was on the other line."Marv said they were taking me," said Knox Sr., a standout receiver at FSU.Soon after, Knox Sr. saw his name scroll across ESPN'...
Published: 06/20/18
Lightning’s Victor Hedman wins NHL’s Norris Trophy

Lightning’s Victor Hedman wins NHL’s Norris Trophy

Victor Hedman, a relentless part of the Lightning's push to the Eastern Conference final last season, was honored Wednesday night with the Norris Trophy, given to the NHL's top defenseman."To the Lightning organization, Mr. Jeff Vinik, Steve Yzerman ...
Published: 06/20/18
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Wednesday’s Rays-Astros game

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Wednesday’s Rays-Astros game

RHP Nathan Eovaldi said before his rough start Wednesday against the Astros that he was pitching better than his numbers showed. Well … In four starts since his six no-hit innings debut, he's 0-3 with a 6.17 ERA, allowing eight homers, four Wed...
Published: 06/20/18