Soccer team rallies behind young Lexington leukemia survivor

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — It isn’t every day nine-year-old girls get to meet their heroes, much less eat ice cream with them. Ellie Hurley, a two-time cancer survivor from Lexington, got to do just that.

Hurley, who will turn 10 in September, has fought leukemia twice but hasn’t let it stop her from living life to the fullest and from enjoying one of her favorite things: sports.

“I like sports because of all of the excitement about it,” she said. “I like it when we win, of course, but I like watching the game and watching how it plays out.”


Hurley’s mother, Morgan Hurley, said her daughter has always been a “sports nut.” “Her best friend is Kash Daniel,” she said.

Ellie’s favorite football team is the University of Kentucky Wildcats, but her favorite soccer team is the Racing Louisville Football Club, a National Women’s Soccer League team whose inaugural season took place during the pandemic. Morgan said her daughter was “amazed” that there are “girl professional athletes” and became a huge fan of the team.

When Morgan posted a video on Twitter of Ellie’s excitement about seeing the team play, she said she never expected the club to respond beyond a potential retweet.

“They reached out to me when we posted that and said they’d love for Ellie to be able to meet the team at some time,” she said. “They sent out a video for her saying that they were excited to see her there.”

Jonathan Lintner, the team’s vice president of communications, said, “All of this has sort of snowballed from there, as they (the team) have learned more about her story and her courage to overcome leukemia.”

Lintner said the Hurleys are now regulars at the games, and the players know Ellie by name. “The team looks for her when they’re in the field,” he said.

ELLIE’S JOURNEY WITH LEUKEMIA


After she was diagnosed, Morgan said Ellie received treatment at the Kentucky Children’s Hospital. After a month of treatment, Ellie went into remission and has been undergoing radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy since then.

“With Ellie, the hardest thing was when she lost her hair, but I think really any girl would struggle with losing their hair,” Morgan said. “Now, Ellie’s hair is purple; we like to have crazy-looking hair. We just try to keep optimistic as much as we can.”

During treatments, UK students involved in DanceBlue would come and volunteer at the clinic, and Morgan said interacting with them “made the world of difference” for Ellie. “The better she felt mentally, the better she would physically as well,” Morgan said.

On Tuesday, Ellie had her last round of treatment and is officially done with chemotherapy. Her mother said Ellie is ready for “normal kids’ stuff,” and Ellie said she is excited to play soccer.

She had encouragement for other kids going through similar treatments. “It gets hard in some parts, but after all, you can do it,” she said.


ICE CREAM WITH THE PROS

When the members of the Racing Louisville Football Club heard that Ellie was finished with her treatments, they wanted to do something special to celebrate.

Katie McClure, a forward for the team, said, “She is an amazing little girl, and she’s such an inspiration to not only me but every single person on our team. She has so much fight in her ... we just wanted to go out and help celebrate with her.”

McClure reached out to Ellie’s mother and asked if some team members could take Ellie out for ice cream, driving from Louisville to Frankfort to see her. “I just wanted to show Ellie that we were there for her,” she said. “Just to show Ellie that we’re proud of her, to keep fighting because she makes us fight every single day.”

“It made me feel excited and happy that they drove all the way from Louisville to see me,” Ellie said.

Last Sunday, at Louisville’s game against the Washington Spirit, Ellie “rang the bell” during halftime to celebrate the end of her chemotherapy treatments.

“Ellie’s just a huge inspiration to our team,” McClure said.

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