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Yarmouth girls are winners off the field too

Sports

Yarmouth girls are winners off the field too

YARMOUTH—When Natalie Salmon was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes two-and-a-half years ago, she had a support system already in place.

Now, Salmon, a senior at Yarmouth High, with the help of three of her best friends and classmates (Becca Bell, Devin Simsarian and Danielle Torres), along with several other members of the talented Yarmouth girls' soccer team, are proving to be just as impressive off the field as on with their community service endeavors.

Sunday, for the third year in a row, Salmon and the Clippers will gather at Payson Park to participate in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Walk to Cure Diabetes.

"This is third year we've done the walk," said Salmon, who shows no signs of anything slowing her down while she dominates at her defensive position on the pitch. "It's just a really great event. My friends all support me and try to raise a lot of money. They do it every year and my Mom's really involved. I write a letter each year and send out e-mails. It's been really nice because each year, a lot of people from the team have come out to support me. I wasn't even aware of the disease before."

That won't be the only event the girls take part in this upcoming weekend. Saturday, they'll participate in the Maine Children's Cancer Program Walk at the same location.

Such devotion and selflessness is actually nothing new. The Clippers have been giving back for years.

"Every year (the boys' and girls' teams) try to do community service of some kind," said Rich Smith, the only coach the Clippers have employed, who won his 200th career game Saturday night, beating rival Falmouth (please see story). "This goes back to when Lindsey Berghuis (a former Clipper who passed away from cancer in 1999) was on the team. We've worked with the Center for Grieving Children and the Ronald McDonald House. One year we raked leaves for an elderly person. The girls come in every Saturday for Pee Wee Soccer. I think one of the best things of the Yarmouth program is the kids who have gone through the program and all the things they do."

Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, usually strikes children, adolescents and young adults and requires multiple insulin injections.

Salmon recalls that when she got her diagnosis, the first place to turn for support was obvious.

"(Becca, Danielle and Devin) were probably the first people I told and they've been so incredibly supportive," Salmon said. "They can tell when I go low during practice. They'll make sure I fix what's wrong. They're always there for me. It's a great feeling."

Salmon monitors her blood sugar during practice and games, but rarely misses a beat.

"If my blood sugar goes low, I have to take a break and drink juice and wait for it to come up," she said. "It's a low feeling I get."

"She just kind of sneaks away and fixes whatever she needs to do," said Bell, Yarmouth's 2009-10 Winter Female Athlete of the Year for her skiing dominance.

"She's really good about it," Smith added. "In the middle of practice, she might say, 'I need some juice.' We'll know exactly why. She checks her blood sugar and comes right back. She doesn't let it affect her play or the team in any way. Since the beginning. She's never complained. It's a really testament to Natalie that she can take on that adversity and make the most of any situation."

Instead of seeing diabetes as an obstacle, Salmon has overcome and along the way served as an inspiration to the community and her teammates.

"We're just all really supportive of her," said Simsarian, a speedster and three-sport star. "She's a great player and captain. We're glad to play with her."

"Playing sports with Natalie has affected us," added Torres, Yarmouth's 2010 Spring Female Athlete of the Year after another All-American season of lacrosse. "We love seeing her because she takes such good control of what she has to do and doesn't let it affect her sports at all. We're looking forward to the event to support her and all that she does. It's special for us because the four of us have been playing together since freshman year. I feel like we have a special bond."

While Salmon is front and center is the fight, the whole Yarmouth girls' soccer program has demonstrated that it's something special. Not just during games (where the Clippers were 3-0 heading into a home game versus Wells Tuesday, then, after taking on cancer and diabetes during their busy weekend, host rival Greely Monday night), but in all aspects of life.

"The five seniors (Courtney Barker is the other) have been with the program for a long time," Smith said. "They keep it positive and energetic. They have a great work ethic and push each other hard in practice. Having great senior leadership like this affects the team for years to come. These guys are great students, great citizens, great kids. They just happen to be really good at soccer too, which makes it fun. I'm so proud of their accomplishments. They do so many things off the field."

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net