Adrianna Oliva’s phone background features a horse named Cosmo, from a camp in Plainview, New York she attended over the summer. She loves to swim. She is a little shy. She has a dog named Ticky and a bearded dragon named Scales. Her two younger brothers, Little George and Johnny, are rambunctious and a tad annoying. She makes a mean homemade pizza. In these ways and others, Adrianna is just like many other 14-year-old girls.
What makes Adrianna unique among her peers is that she is a survivor of a brain tumor and, as of Thursday, is an official member of the Stony Brook swimming and diving team.
“We are very excited to have Adrianna,” sophomore Lexie Bakke said. “We look forward to having her at our meets, coming to hang out with us, and adding [Adrianna] to the team as a person.”
Adrianna signed her official letter of intent in front of the team and her family at University Pool on Thursday. As part of the ceremony, Adrianna received her official Stony Brook swim cap and a locker in the team’s locker room.
“We decorated it and put a banner with her name on it,” Bakke said. “That’ll be hers as long as she’s with [the team].”
Adrianna was diagnosed with an ependymoma, a malignant tumor that affects the central nervous system, at age 2 by Dr. Mike Edner, a neurosurgeon and the current director of pediatric neurosurgery at Stony Brook University Hospital. Since then she has had 13 surgeries, radiation therapy and had to completely relearn how to walk and talk.
“Everything was a challenge: talking, walking, motor skills – both fine and gross,” Adrianna’s father, George Oliva, said. “She’s a fighter. Most people wouldn’t notice anything wrong with her. There’s some subtle things that my wife and I can see in her, but she’s overcome a lot.”
The signing day ceremony was organized by Team IMPACT, a nonprofit charity organization that pairs children who face serious or chronic illness with college athletic teams. Three other teams at Stony Brook – the men’s and women’s soccer teams and the baseball team – have previously been paired with Team IMPACT kids.
“When Janelle told us about the program, Team IMPACT, and what it is as an organization and what we can do as a team… immediately all of us got really excited,” Bakke said. “We all responded to the group chat within two minutes saying ‘we want to help, we want to help, we want to help.’”
Adrianna connected with Team IMPACT through Camp Sunshine, a summer camp in Maine for kids who are affected by life-threatening illnesses.
“They asked if any kids needed assistance in getting set up with a team anywhere,” Adrianna’s mother, Michele Oliva, said. Oliva graduated from Stony Brook in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy. “They said the swim team would love to take her and it just happens that Adrianna loves swimming.”
Adrianna, who swims for the Ward Melville High School varsity swim team, was thrilled to be paired with the Stony Brook team. The Seawolves will compete this season for the first time since 2012. On Tuesday, the team went to her house for a birthday party, with homemade pizza courtesy of Adrianna’s work in the kitchen.
“We’ve been talking about this since the summer and we couldn’t wait to meet her,” Bakke said. “We’ve just been having so much fun going over to her house, having food, and meeting the rest of her family.”
Now that she is part of the team, Adrianna will attend practices, team dinners and bonding activities. She will also attend the two home meets Stony Brook has scheduled this season on Nov. 18 and Jan. 19. However, there is one thing she will avoid doing with her new teammates – “dryland,” the out-of-pool workouts swimmers do to stay in shape.
When asked if she would like to join the team in these intensive exercises, Adrianna, who has her Ward Melville swim practices to worry about, responded quickly and succinctly.
“I’m good,” she said, sparking laughter from her new swim team family.
Correction: Oct. 14, 2017
In a previous version of the story, The Statesman reported Adrianna Oliva was 13 years old. She is 14 years old.