It is our honor to introduce, Maria Ciarrocca, our 14th sporting recipient!

Maria at the time of application was a senior soccer player at Pine Richland High School outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  She indicated on her application that her first-choice sporting experience was to have her and her family sent to Tampa, Florida to see the Tampa Bay Rays play the New York Yankees.  That is exactly what the John Challis Courage for Life Foundation did just for her.  Maria and her family were guests of the Tampa Bay Rays on April 18, 2014 where she threw out the first pitch.   Maria is in remission from a two year battle with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Please continue reading below as you will learn more about Maria and her story from a letter that she wrote to our foundation.


Dear Courage for Life Foundation,

Before November 16, 2012, I was focused on preparing for college, soccer, and enjoying my junior year of high school.  The morning of the 16th, I was taking a practice SAT test when I experienced a sharp pain in my chest.  Being that I was leaving after my test for a soccer tournament, my mom wanted to make sure the pain wasn’t serious.  That’s when I learned I had cancer.  Instead of driving with my best friend to our soccer tournament, I was in an ambulance on my way to Children’s Hospital.

Cancer is a game changer in so many ways.  My days of waking up, going to school, attending practice, working out, and studying were put on hold.  I became the focus of our family, as my parents tried to keep my younger sisters’ lives as normal as possible.  My passion for life only empowered my will to live.  I was determined to beat this deadly disease that had taken over my body.

Chemotherapy, spinal taps, blood transfusions, radiation, and hospital stays were all part of my road to recovery.  Looking back, one of the most difficult days was when the nurse came into my hospital room and described how my life was going to change for the next few years.  The conversation began with “you should not use a razor to shave; you will lose all your hair”, ending with “no swimming in a public pool, lake or ocean.  Let’s not forget, if you spike a fever, you must immediately get to Children’s.”  Needless to say, my parents were in fear of going anywhere far from the hospital.  Family vacations were put on hold.  My parents juggled who would take one sister to her soccer tournaments or games, and then send my other sister to her games with a friend, so one of them was always with me.

I am grateful for my family.  They helped carry me through a very difficult time.  Through the grace of God, family, and friends, I am now in the Maintenance phase of my recovery.

A year ago, I remember a social worker coming into my hospital room with a number of pamphlets.  That’s when I learned about John Challis, his battle with cancer, and the Foundation started in his memory.  I too believe that we should strive to live life to its fullest.  Some of us have to dig deeper than others to do it.  John’s legacy will continue to live on through the opportunities that he is granting to families in need of togetherness.  It is for this gift, I am grateful.

Maria Ciarrocca

Maria and her family spent time together at the Tradewinds Resort in St. Petersburg, Florida.  As a guest at the Tampa Bay Rays vs. New York Yankees game, Maria was awarded a personal game jersey, threw out the ceremonial first pitch and even was able to meet TV Star, Jerry Springer.  At the Tradewinds, Maria and her family were able to relax, enjoy four days of sun and just spend quality time together as a family.

Last, let us share with you a letter that Maria’s mom wrote to Scott Challis, Board Member and Sporting Coordinator of CFL:

Dear Scott,

We want to sincerely thank you and the Foundation for sending my family to St. Petersburg.  The Rays game was a great experience!  We were treated kindly by Rick and his staff.  Throwing out the ceremonial first pitch will definitely be a lifetime memory!  Thanks you for making it happen.  Maria and the girls were thrilled!

We also had a great time at the Tradewinds Resort!  It had been a long time since we had spent quality time away together as a family.


Lisa Ciarracocca