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DeLuca keeps memories of father alive through lacrosse

Matt+DeLuca+%28center%29+plays+for+Marquette+against+Wisconsin.
Matt DeLuca (center) plays for Marquette against Wisconsin.

Matt DeLuca (center) plays for Marquette against Wisconsin.

Matt DeLuca (center) plays for Marquette against Wisconsin.

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Matt DeLuca considers himself a wise old man. He might only be a sophomore on the men’s club lacrosse team and lacking the traditional long, white beard, but his world looks much different than a typical 19-year-old’s. Life has come at him hard and fast, and he figured out long ago that no matter how hard one tries, time doesn’t stop for anybody. The world will always keep moving.

When DeLuca was nine, doctors had to explain to him that there was an extra cell in his blood, and its name was leukemia.

At that moment, DeLuca didn’t have to come face-to-face with his diagnosis, but it left him with a lasting impact: a blood disorder and an enlarged spleen.

It limited DeLuca. Football, the biggest sport at his high school, was out of the question, but it might have been a blessing in disguise. It made him closer to the two things he loves in life: lacrosse and his dad, Paul.

Paul DeLuca was an avid lacrosse fan and an extremely successful coach on the middle school level, where he won two championships over 14 years. He divorced when his kids were still young, and before he met Matt’s eventual stepmom, lacrosse filled the missing piece in the family. It tied him and Matt together in an inseparable bond.

“It’s who I am, and it’s a part of who I became with my dad,” Matt said. “When he was still coaching, he would always be on the sideline, and I would come off the field to chat with him about the plays. It resembled our relationship.”

When he heard the doctor’s diagnosis of his son, Paul was more terrified than Matt. He knew what leukemia meant, and he knew the impact it had on families. Once Matt was cleared, Paul thought it wasn’t enough to feel blessed. Instead, he vowed to make a difference.

Since 1994, America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride, a course that circumnavigates Lake Tahoe and skids across the side of the Sierra Nevada in California, has partnered with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to raise over $94 million. Paul DeLuca rode the 100-mile course from 2006 to 2008. It meant everything to him.

But no matter how fast or far he rode, Paul couldn’t escape the cause he was riding for. In May of 2015, he was diagnosed with CNS Primary Lymphoma, and he passed away in October. That same fall, Matt began his freshman year at Marquette.

“Transitioning into college was hard. Real hard,” Matt said. “Moving here and leaving him behind, although I knew he never would have wanted me to stay, it’s a part of growing up realizing that you have to put some things in front of others.”

Through the mire of grief and endless wandering thoughts that fall, there was one thing that kept Matt sane: lacrosse. When he got to Marquette, the first thing he did was find the club lacrosse team at Marquette and sign up. It reminded him of his dad, and even if he was no longer there, he could still picture him standing on the sideline waiting for his son to jog over and talk about the game.

“I made the conscious decision that I wouldn’t just isolate myself and study,” Matt said. “Instead, I focused on friendships and finding groups on campus that were good for me.”

Matt said he’s past the mourning. He focuses on the positive aspects of his dad and lessons he learned, both on and off the field.

As a coach, his dad was always organized, and as Matt put it, “always had his ducks in a row.” So, it isn’t surprising Matt already holds a leadership position on his team. As the social chair on the team’s board of directors, he’s trying to make a difference.

This February, in an attempt to continue the efforts of his dad, he approached his teammates with the idea of a fundraiser. His step-mom, Renee, started a Man of the Year campaign in memory of Paul and the passions so close to his heart, and Matt knew he wanted to bring his dad’s cause right here to Marquette.

His teammates have embraced it with open arms.

“As a team, we like to do more than just play the game on the field,” club lacrosse president Tim Hefferon said. “It goes to show that the bonds that we create on the field extend off as well and our guys are really eager to get involved in this, especially since it is supporting one of our own.”

Matt hopes to get team helmet stickers or some small token of remembrance, but more than money, he wants to raise awareness for cancer, spread the story of Paul and give the advice his father left him, “Try your hardest, and if you fail, you can never feel bad about yourself.”

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One Response to “DeLuca keeps memories of father alive through lacrosse”

  1. Laura Fisher on March 24th, 2017 9:09 pm

    We loved Paul and love Matt. We are thrilled to see Matt honoring his dad. A great kid honoring a great man! We are so proud of you Matt! Love from Dave and Laura Fisher

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