Seattle Storm players and coach Brian Agler entered KeyArena on Thursday morning and the 11-year-old broke out into a huge grin. Members of the team, including Sue Bird, Lauren Jackson and Tina Thompson, introduced themselves and shook her hand before taking the court for their game-day practice.
"I want to learn ways to be a better basketball player," Gillian said. "I just want to watch all their plays so I get to be better."
Gillian, a sixth-grade student at Heatherwood Middle School in Mill Creek, was diagnosed with Crohn's disease in June 2010.
The chronic inflammatory bowel disease typically affects parts of the small and large intestines. Gillian, her mother, and two sisters were invited to watch the practice as part of her Make-A-Wish Foundation experience. The nonprofit grants wishes for children with life-threatening medical conditions.
Gillian's mother, Teresa Robinson, said the girl is doing well now but a flare-up in March caused her to spend a month and a half at Seattle Children's Hospital, where she underwent surgery. The hospital referred Gillian to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Alaska and Washington after that stay.
Robinson told Make-A-Wish that her daughter enjoyed playing basketball. Weeks later, a plan was formed for Gillian and her family to watch the morning practice and attend the evening game against the Indiana Fever.
"When I found out, I just started jumping around," Gillian said. "I was so excited."
Gillian started playing basketball at age 5 and loves the sport. She is a guard for the Mill Creek Lady Wolfpack Feeder Basketball Program and has a goal to one day become a professional basketball player like her favorite members of the Seattle Storm team, Lauren Jackson and Katie Smith.
Gillian wore a Storm jersey on Thursday that included her last name and the No. 14.
"It's my lucky number and the first number I ever had," Gillian said.
Between the practice and game, Gillian, her sisters, Elyssa, 14, and Taylin, 6, visited the Seattle Aquarium and rode the Seattle Great Wheel with their mother.
Robinson said what made her day was seeing her daughter's reaction.
"I'm excited because she's smiling," she said. "We haven't seen that in awhile. To have a day just to have fun and not worry about life in general is great."
Gillian joined in a team huddle and cheer after practice and asked several players to sign the back of her jersey. The family returned to the arena Thursday night where before the game, Gillian and her sister, Elyssa, were announced as honorary captains. The sisters sat courtside during most of the game. The family also received autographs from the players following the game.
"She's a great kid and I heard she's pretty good," said Tina Thompson, a Storm forward. "It's just a special feeling to be part of something that's so important for someone."
Amy Daybert: 425-339-3491; email@example.com.
Everett resident and Make-A-Wish recipient, Gage Hancock-Stevens, 13, will become an honorary police officer at Marymoor Park, Sept. 23 during the 2012 Walk for Wishes fundraiser. Check-in begins at 8:45 a.m. and is followed by the walk at 9:30 a.m. at the park, 6046 W. Lake Sammamish Parkway NE in Redmond.
The Make-A-Wish organization began in 1980 when 11-year-old Chris Greicius wished to be a police officer. Gage is the first child in the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Alaska and Washington's territory to request to be a police officer. For more information about the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Alaska and Washington and the Walk for Wishes, go to www.northwestwishes.org.
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