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Meet Pittsburgh Panther Gymnastics Team’s Newest & Smallest Gymnast

Meet Pittsburgh Panther Gymnastics Team’s Newest & Smallest Gymnast

Gymnastics News Network

By Terri Laymon


This has got to be one of the most heart-warming stories I have heard about in quite a long time. In this day of scandal and abuse that has run amuck throughout the gymnastics community, it is refreshing and just down-right spectacular that goodness and kindness are still prevalent.

Mina Deluca signs Letter of Intent with the Pittsburgh Panther Gymnastics team

Mina Deluca signs Letter of Intent with the Pittsburgh Panther Gymnastics team

The Pittsburgh Panthers Gymnastics Team signed the newest and cutest girl to the team recently. Mina DeLuca signed her letter of intent to become a Panther gymanst…for life.

Mina is only four years old…and was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) in 2014, yet after several rounds of chemotherapy, she is currently in remission.

Mina is part of a country wide program called “Friends of Jaclyn”. The Friends of Jaclyn foundation began after Jaclyn Murphy was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a malignant brain tumor, at the age of nine. She became attached and adopted by a collegiate lacrosse team as an honorary team member.

Jaclyn’s strength, courage, relentless spirit and joy for life helped to inspire her new teammates. Her team went on to have a perfect season, winning their first NCAA national championship in 64 years.

Friends of JaclynJaclyn then shared her dream of helping other sick children with her family while she was in the hospital. The Murphy grew, with much help from her father, Denis, created the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, helping to improve the quality of life for kids battling pediatric brain tumors allowing them to: Live in the Moment…Play in the Moment. The Friends of Jaclyn has helped over 7— families with brain tumors and other childhood cancers.

This foundation makes it their mission to improve the quality of life for these sick children and raise awareness through their Adopt-A-Child, Safe on the Sidelines and Guardian Angel Programs. By pairing afflicted children and their siblings with local high school and collegiate sports teams, they help to change the lives of these families.

To date, the foundation has helped over 700 families in the US and Canada become paired with teams in over 34 different men’s and women’s sports, in division I, II, III sports, community colleges, high schools and other community groups. We recently expanded our reach to include the arts and other alternative “teams” such as the Yale Men’s Whiffenpoofs (acapella group), the LA Opera, The West Point Parachute Team and Ronnie Stewart Motocross Racing Team.  As for gymnastics teams, Cornell adopted Ryleigh, UC Davis adopted Alyssa, Penn State adopted Sydney and Rutgers adopted Avery.

For Mina, she loves gymnastics, so pairing her up with the Pittsburgh Panthers Gymnastics team was a natural. Mina and her sister, Gianna, love being members of this fabulous group of young ladies. The family, mom and dad included) loves interacting with the team, attending the meets, and getting together for special dinners and team bonding activities. It has been a truly wonderful year for Mina and her family.

Pittsburgh gymnasts ring in the new year and new season with their newest teammate - Mina Deluca

Pittsburgh gymnasts ring in the new year and new season with their newest teammate – Mina & GiannaDeluca

Getting to know Mina:

GNN: Tell us about yourself, Mina. 

Full name: Madelina Grace DeLuca

Age: 4

Mom & Dad’s name: Kristin and Chris

Sister’s name: Gianna

City in which you live: Moon Township (near the Pittsburgh Airport)

Do you have any pets: No

What’s your favorite food(s):  Pizza with black olives (or pepperoni)

What’s your favorite non-gymnastics thing to do: Play with my American Girl dolls

When did you start gymnastics: When I was 3

What gymnastics club do you belong: Moon Recreational Gymnastics

What amazing skills do you have now:  I can do forward rolls and am working on my splits.  I also love the bars!

What is the one thing you want to learn: How to do a cartwheel

GNN: Tell us a little about your medical condition.  

Mina: Madelina was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) in November of 2014.  She received 4 rounds of chemotherapy from November 2014-April 2015 at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

GNN: Who approached you about becoming a Pitt Panther Gymnast?

Mina: My dad learned about the Friends of Jaclyn program through social media.

GNN: What does it mean to becoming a member of the Pitt Gymnastics Team?

Mina: Becoming a member of the team has been such a memorable experience !  I love to come and see the girls and practice my gymnastics!  It’s also fun to have older girls to look up to!

GNN: What do you get to do as part of this amazing collegiate gymnastic team?

Mina: I get to come to some of the practices and am planning to come to all meets.  The girls from the team came Trick or Treating with my sister and I on Halloween.  The team also prepared a homemade Thanksgiving dinner and brought it to our house for a great evening !  A few of the girls also came to my birthday party at a trampoline park.  We also made New Year’s masks a few weeks ago !

GNN: I got to see your Panther leo and it was gorgeous. Do you only have the one or do you have others?

Mina: I only have one Pitt Leo right now but i wear it all the time!!

GNN: Are you also going to compete for you club team someday?

Mina: Hopefully !  Since I’m only 4, who knows ! (Ha ha!)

The Pittsburgh Panther gymnasts help Mina celebrate her birthday!

The Pittsburgh Panther gymnasts help Mina celebrate her birthday!

GNN: Signing your Letter of Intent must have pretty thrilling. Tell us about the signing and the party you had with the Pitt Gymnasts.

Mina: The day of my signing was a lot of fun!  I was a little shy at first but opened up after a while!  We had a formal ceremony with the entire team and then had some yummy cupcakes to celebrate!   Then the team took me to the locker room and showed me my very own locker!!  I had a ton of fun !!

GNN: What is your favorite event so far?

Mina: Thanksgiving dinner with the team

GNN: How much do you love your ‘big sister’ teammates?

Mina: They are the best !! They are always so excited to see me! I love to give them hugs !!

GNN: Tell us about all the perks you get as the youngest, smallest, and cutest Pitt gymnast! 

Mina: I get to hang out with the team as much as possible and get to come cheer them on at all of their meets .

GNN: What do want to be when you get bigger?

Mina: First answer… I want to be 5!! (this made me 😥)

Second answer …. I want to be a doctor! (this made me 😊)

We caught up with the head coach of the Pittsburgh Panthers, Debbie Yohman, to ask her all about the experience signing a tiny mini-might and what it might mean to the team.

GNN: Who’s idea was it to adopt Mina as a gymnast for Pitt?

Deb Yohman: We looked into an organization last year that does something similar but did not follow thru at the time. When Colin Sisk from Lifeskills brought it up this fall I immediately jumped on it. It helped that the youngster that Friends of Jacqueline had as an adoptee was, along with her older sister, in gymnastics. And her parents were Pitt fans! When I brought it to the team they were right away all in!

GNN: Tell us a little bit about Mina from your perspective and what does it mean to you and the team to have signed this tiny dynamo?

Deb Yohman: Once I presented this to our team this became a very team driven project.  We have rep from each class coordinating with Mina’s mom& dad as well as with FoJ (so we have continuity from year to year as we hope this will be a long term relationship).  Outside of our “signing” party the coaches have not participated much although the reps keep me posted on their activities.  So the benefits of the relationship accrue to the team members in terms of leadership, organizational skills, mentoring opportunities, and even problem solving. But the most important benefit is just the developing friendship wit this amazing young survivor; and from my standpoint watching that friendship grow!

GNN: What are Mina’s responsibilities or duties as a member of the gymnastics team now?

Deb Yohman: Right now Mina is a bit young to have duties with us!! She’s more like a mascot, comes to meets & marches in with the team, joins us afterwards for awards.  But she’s always so glad to see the kids & vice versa…I hope we can let her grow into more and more team responsibilities.

GNN: I am sure this is a true give and take relations between the team, coaches, Mina, and her family. Can you tell us about the benefits from these relationships?

Deb Yohman: The girls are always looking for ideas for activities, including things that they can share with Mina’s older sister also.  They have done Halloween, Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas gifts. I know they are looking forward to summer when they will have more time to spend with her!Mina Deluca

We also were able to catch up with a couple of the lady Panthers who helps initiate the process of signing Mina to the team. Krista Collins and Maegan Hidden also answered a few questions for us about their new teammate.

GNN: How did you choose Mina to be part of you team?

Krista: It was a mutual decision to have Mina be a part of our team. She chose us and when we were given the opportunity to add Mina as a member of our team we were thrilled! The team couldn’t wait to get started with their family. Our team is fully committed to giving Mina the best possible experience as a Pitt Panther!

Maegan: When we learned about the Friends of Jacklyn foundation the team knew right away that it was something we wanted to get involved in. Debbie then worked with Collin from compliance and they received news about Mina. After hearing some of Mina’s story we were touched and new that we wanted this little fighter on our team. So as a team we discussed the commitment we would all need to put forth and agreed that we wanted Mina to be apart of our team.

GNN: What is the greatest part about having this little sister join your team?

Krista: Having Mina join our team is a blessing in itself. Everything about her becoming a Pitt Panther is great! Her personality lights up the room and you can’t help but smile when you see her run to you. To take Mina under the wing of our team is an unbelievable experience and it warms our hearts to know that we can be a part of this journey with the Deluca family.

Maegan: Our team is like a family, so having Mina join the team we grew from a family of 20 to a family of 21. We were so very thrilled to sign her that we held a signing party and everything. This was a great opportunity because we not only got to know Mina better but her family as well.  The entire DeLuca family has been one of our biggest supporters this season and it has been such a blessing to grow closer and closer with them.

GNN: What can Mina bring to the Pitt gymnastics team?

Krista: Mina brings an energetic personality and loving smile to our team. She is so happy all the time! You can’t help but feel that energy she gives off! Having Mina be a part of our team has given us so much and an unwavering love for a little girl who loves everyone she sees.

Maegan: Mina has a presence like no other; she is this little ball of fire. Mina brings so much brightness to our team.  No matter what the mood of the team Mina’s smiling little face brings the whole teams energy up.

GNN: How has your relationship grown with Mina since she joined?

Krista: When Mina first joined our team she was a little shy, but as the days and weeks go by her personality has really started to come through. She is a little ball of energy, and we consider Mina one of our sisters! We have grown very close to Mina’s family as well.

Maegan: Like Krista noted, when we first met Mina she was very shy.  She is only four years old so having 20 gymnasts introducing themselves can be a bit overwhelming. To say the least, she warmed up to the team very quickly.  Personally, I have grown closer to Mina. A few of the girls and I went trick or treating with Mina and attended her birthday party. I’ve learned there is never a dull moment with Mina. Whether she’s showing me her forward roll that looks more like a punch to her head roll or she’s running around having me chase her.

GNN: What are some activities the team and Mina do together? 

Krista: The team has done a lot of activities with Mina. We spend holidays together, we do arts and crafts, she joins us at meets, and we even went to her birthday party!

Maegan: Some of the activities that the team has done with Mina is Trick-or-treating, thanksgiving dinner, and a new years party. Mina and her family have also been our biggest supporters at all of the home meets as well as some of our away meets.

GNN: How has Mina inspired you in your lives?

Krista: Mina has been more than an inspiration in our lives. She has taught our team to never give up and to keep fighting. She has shown us that she doesn’t let anything bring her down and her energy is contagious. Mina has taught us more than we can even imagine and we thank her for that.

Maegan: Mina may only be four but she is my role model. The energy and brightness that Mina carries wherever she goes is contagious. She did not let cancer bring her down. Instead she fought and she continuous to fight. I can always count on Mina to put a smile on my face no matter what kind of day I am having. Mina is a constant reminder of how precious life is and that we need to enjoy every second of it.

Pittsburgh Gymnastics - Mina Deluca

Mina & Gianna Deluca along with Sydney Benner join together for the Friends of Jaclyn as the Nittany Lions hosted the Panthers this season. Photo: Terri Laymon 

This has been a most inspiration year watching the lady Panthers practice and compete with their new little dynamo Panther, Mina. Supported by her sister Gina and her parents, the Deluca’s come to all the home meets and some of the closer away meets as well.

The Pittsburgh Panthers Gymnastics team is only one of many teams across the country that have adopted a child from the Friends of Jaclyn program. Most recently, the Penn State Gymnastics team, in conjunction with the Penn State Football team, has also adopted both Noah and Sydney Benner. Noah is 11 and has already had three brain surgeries. His four year old little sister, Sydney, had to grow up pretty quickly to help and support him during his struggles.

While the Penn State Football team adopted Noah, the  women’s gymnastics team stepped up and adopted Sydney. Sydney signed her letter of intent to become a lifelong Nittany Lion Gymnast.

The stories that come from the Friends of Jaclyn social media are simply incredible, inspiring, and extremely uplifting. As a person who has seen this program in action, I encourage everyone to go to the Friends of Jaclyn webpage (just click to link) or contact the Murphy’s directly to see just how you can make a difference as well.  Friends of JaclynAs for Mina and her family, I think they all will have have an incredible experience growing up in the Pittsburgh Panther family. Being only four years old and already crossing off a major goal to sign your letter of intent to college is quite an achievement. We just can’t wait to watch Mina, and the many others, grow up in the gymnastics community!

Thank you to the Deluca’s for sharing their story and also a big thank you to Denis Murphy and the Friends of Jaclyn program for all the wonderful things you are achieving.



Source: Friends of Jaclyn

#gnn #loveoursport #gymnastslivehere 

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