Abby Cole forms an unlikely bond at Mott

Allison Farrand/Daily
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By Kelly Hall, For the Daily
Published October 23, 2013

When Abby Cole visits C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, kids ask for her autograph. The freshman middle blocker doesn’t understand why.

“It’s a big deal for them, they get so excited,” she said. “They go, ‘Sign this, sign that,’ and I’m like, ‘I’m really not cool, why do you want my signature?’ ”

But to the Walker family, she’s the coolest. Abby is much more than a starter for the Michigan volleyball team and a recent Big Ten Freshman of the Week — she is the friend of a family that’s fighting for a loved one.

Cole first met the Walker family on Oct. 10 during one of her weekly trips to the hospital. She’s only met the family once, but the bond is strong enough to assume that she will be reunited with them again soon.

Clary Walker, a 16-year-old from Traverse City, Mich., has been at Mott since Aug 29, after being flown in and diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. It’s been extremely difficult for his family of six, especially his three younger siblings who have to miss school in order to see him.

When she walked into the hospital room at Mott, she grabbed the family’s attention for something other than her 6-foot-5 frame — her compassion for the Walker family was clearly evident.

“We consider Abby our friend,” said Laura Walker, Clary’s mother. “She has a heart of compassion and genuine care for others. We sure look forward in the months ahead at Mott that we get to see our friend Abby.”

Cole not only makes a significant impact on the court, but also in the hearts of many patients and families as well. The Walkers are an example of that. Cole didn’t just make a quick pit stop to sign autographs — she created a real relationship with Clary, as she does with many of the children she has the opportunity to visit.

Cole created a special bond with the entire Walker family that night. She chatted with Clary’s little sisters about their interest in sports, and even left tickets for the Walkers to watch her team take on Nebraska and Iowa at Cliff Keen Arena.

According to the nurses, the kids look forward to the athlete visits all week, and it means a great deal to the children to meet the stars of their favorite sports. Although the volunteering is generally meant to brighten the days of the patients, Cole doubts that they enjoy it more than she does.

“I get 100 percent more out of it than they do,” she said.

Cole visits the hospital every Thursday night when she is in Ann Arbor and not on the road. For her, visiting Mott is a way to take a step back from school and volleyball and gain some perspective.

“It’s the one thing every week that brightens everything up and kind of resets my mind to what’s really important,” Cole said.

For the Walker family, it’s comforting to know that people like Cole exist. She somehow juggles her student workload on top of a demanding practice schedule and still finds the time to visit Mott. Many athletes have the opportunity to lend a hand, but for Cole, it’s a regular part of her weekly agenda.

Cole can’t wait to see the Walker family again.

“Now that I’ve met this boy Clary, and his sisters, and their family, I can go back and try to get on the seventh floor to go see them again,” Cole said.

The Walker family motto is “No one fights alone,” regardless of whether they are at Mott or on the volleyball court.