GREAT FALLS — All the trappings of a signing day ceremony were present Wednesday at the University of Providence.
Proud parents, cameras snapping, excited teammates. But this signing was special.
Argo women’s soccer coach Brian Clarke had worked hard to land a prized recruit and was eager to get things started.
“I couldn’t sleep last night,” he admitted. “I was really excited and wanted to make sure that this went well for this young lady.”
That young lady is 11-year old Keira Richards of Great Falls who lives with Cystic Fibrosis. Through a non-profit organization called Team Impact, she was connected with the Argo team. And on this day she put pen to paper and became an official member.
“It was nerve-wracking and very exciting,” smiled Keira. “Because that finally meant that I was part of the team. This team is amazing and they all are just so wonderful and I was just so excited.”
Keira cracked a smile. Grins come easy for the young soccer player, but nothing else in her life has. Her health problems began the minute she was born.
“It was a really rough go,” said her mom Rebecca Richards. “It was a shock to have that (cystic fibrosis) diagnosis. As a parent, when you get a diagnosis like that, you don’t know what to do and how to react and where to go.”
The chronic disease means just breathing causes pain for Keira. Every single day she has to go through an hour of respiratory therapy. She needs over 40 pills a day just to digest food properly. She’s had seven different surgeries since she was first diagnosed. It’s a regimen that no child and no parent should have to endure.
Rebecca and her husband Dave decided early that they didn’t want their daughter to live in a bubble.
“We just wanted to let her have the most normal childhood ever,” Rebecca said. “And we started getting her involved in sports and I signed her up for soccer and dance and all sorts of things, and soccer has kind of stuck.”
And that brings us to signing day. Her health problems will still be there tomorrow, but today is a celebration of the Argos welcoming in a new teammate. One that can offer them just as much as they can offer her.
“(Keira) totally lifts up our attitude and you don’t realize for how little of a girl she is how big of an impact she can have,” said Argo sophomore Eme McLaughlin, a good friend of the Richards family. “And she’s completely changed our mindset, it really makes you appreciate the little things.”
As for her role with the team – Keira will attend games, practices, team dinners and will serve as a boost of energy off the bench. Cheering on her teammates and encouraging them to do their best. It’s a role she takes seriously.
“I feel like that responsibility is going to be a little challenging,” Keira said. “But also with the girls on the team, I love them all so it is also going to be fun so I have no problem with it.”
Keira is the teams motivator, and there’s no easing into her new role. She gathered the team in a huddle and started right away.
“Argos on three,” she said to her teammates. “One, two, three.. Argos!”