NAU student-athletes visited the Phoenix Children’s Hospital recently and found the experience “eye opening.”

“When you see a 19-month-old with leukemia and other children with immune system disorders, it makes you realize how blessed you are,” said men’s basketball player Paul Meynen. “I heard a parent comment, ‘We were here for 5 1/2 weeks, went home for nine days and are back again.’ How does your heart not ache when you hear this?”

Along with Meynen, NAU was represented byKelly Busche (swimming), Maria Hechanova (swimming), Rachel Blackman (women’s basketball), Lindsey Carey (soccer), Geoff Ducksworth (football), Will Hensley (men’s basketball), Brittany Janousek (athletics trainer), Kaitlyn Manakas (soccer), Mikaela Knutson(volleyball), Roni Greenwood (volleyball) and Kim Biswanger (women’s basketball).

Meynen organized the event thru the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

The student-athletes read a children’s story to the patients, and then helped them create dioramas.

“My favorite moment was reading to the kids,” Hechanova said. “Being able to see the look on their faces made it worth going. Their eyes lit up, their smiles grew big, and I even got a couple of giggles here and there. One parent said it’s been a while since she’s seen her child that excited.”

Hensley had a similar experience. “I’ve visited a children’s hospital before and found it very fulfilling, so I was hoping this trip would be the same,” Hensley said

Student-athletes, coaches and athletic department staff combined to volunteer more than 3,400 hours during the 2004-05 academic year, assisting organizations like the Flagstaff Family Food Center, the American Cancer Society, Continental Little League and the United Way. In all, the department participated with 43 different organizations in their various projects.

“This visit was important to show the community that NAU athletes are concerned about more than athletics and school,” Busche said. “We wanted to show how we care about giving back to the community and we wanted it to be a very important project.”

It seems the student-athletes get as much out of the event as the children they are visiting.

“I see the fight and determination in the eyes of all the children there and it has given me a better look on life and my situation,” Hensley said. “I feel like this visit was important not only for me but for all of the NAU athletes involved and that didn’t attend.”

Phoenix Children’s Hospital is Arizona’s leader in pediatric care and is one of the 10 largest free-standing children’s hospitals in the nation.