BTN LiveBIG: Hawkeyes get inspirational leadership from 'Captains'

BTN LiveBIG: Hawkeyes get inspirational leadership from 'Captains'

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During football and basketball games, BTN LiveBIG will spotlight notable examples of research, innovation and community service from around the conference. In-Game stories will provide more background on these features, and the opportunity to view the videos again.

You wouldn’t expect a mountain of a man — strapped into football hardware and ready to take on a rival — to look to a little girl for motivation. But this is no ordinary little girl. She’s Laila Walton, and she’s a Hawkeye Kid Captain.

In 2014, Laila was diagnosed with hypokalemic periodic paralysis, a rare condition that results in episodes of severe migraines, vomiting and weakness. Her parents sought treatment for her at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital.

It was at the hospital that Laila’s mother, Christine, first learned of the Kid Captain program. Launched in 2009, the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital Kid Captain program is operated in partnership with the Iowa Hawkeyes. Designed to honor and share the inspiring stories of children being treated at the hospital, individual Kid Captains take the field at every football game.

“On the counters, you see the posters of the kids that have been Kid Captains,” Christine said. “So I applied … I had to write a letter, which was very difficult to get through because I had to go over Laila’s whole medical struggle.”

After being selected from hundreds of applicants, Laila recently went through the sort of experience most Hawkeye fans can only dream about. In addition to being a featured captain at a game and getting to toss the pigskin on the field with team members, she received her own personalized jersey and cards highlighting her stats, like her favorite activities and color. She even had a little one-on-one time with Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, who’s been a supporter from the beginning of the program.

“It just puts it all in perspective,” said Ferentz of the Kid Captains. “When you think about the positive attitude, the courage that they show, that their families show, it’s really inspiring. To have a chance to maybe share a little joy in someone else’s life, that’s a good thing.”

For Laila, the benefits of the program are a bit simpler.

“The best part of being a Kid Captain is you get to go on the field and go to a game,” she said.

By John Tolley

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