The ecstatic screams could be heard from down the hall at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
As the noise neared the visitors’ empty locker room, it was clear that it wouldn’t be silent in there for long. The door opened and 11 thrilled Seahawks fans and their families rushed into the room and found their name cards atop their very own lockers, which were jammed with gear, including a personalized Hawks jersey.
While that locker room has experienced an array of emotions following football games, these children let their joyful smiles and tears envelop the room as their dreams were realized on the afternoon of Aug. 7 as the Hawks teamed up with Make-A-Wish Alaska and Washington to host children with critical illnesses.
One of those children is Paola Joaquin, 14, of North Bend, who is in remission for leukemia. She was diagnosed in January 2017 and continues to receive treatment, according to her mother, Maria.
“We’re hoping that everything will turn out for the best,” Maria said through an interpreter while standing on the CenturyLink Field turf.
About 20 minutes earlier, Paola and the others’ names were announced over the public-address system as they ran or walked through the Hawks’ tunnel and onto the turf, just like the pros at the start of games.
“It’s really cool because the players get announced all the time, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Paola with a smile.
Added Paola’s dad, Pablo, through an interpreter: “There are no words for such a wish and what this organization has done. We are very happy.”
Paola’s aunt got her into football about seven years ago and now she’s hooked and become inspired watching the team play. If she ever ran into Russell Wilson, she might tell him to get the rid of the ball faster, though, she said with a laugh.
“You might get angry at them, you’re like, ‘Pass the ball, it’s so easy,’ but then in your mind you have to realize they’re under pressure and they don’t have enough time,” Paola said.
While checking out her locker with eyes that sparkled like a player seeing daylight all the way to the end zone, Paola and her brother Edgar stood close together and thoroughly enjoyed the moment.
“You gotta think, there could have been an amazing player changing exactly where you were,” said Paola, who nodded her head when told that this is also where the players gain motivation from pep talks to shine once they hit the field.
Paola will be attending Mount Si High as a freshman this fall and has a few words for the Wildcat football players: “I would just tell them dream big and go for the big leagues.”
The three-day wish also featured the kids meeting their favorite current players along with Hawks legends, the Sea Gals and Blitz and attending the Hawks versus Indianapolis Colts preseason game on Aug. 9.
“I will tell you that I’m not important being out here, it’s the families that are most important and these young people who have been through some medical issues and health issues,” said Jim Zorn, former Hawks quarterback.
Jessica Mathews, communications manager for Make-A-Wish Alaska and Washington, enjoyed seeing the kids’ faces light up and having their families alongside them at the events.
The Hawks and Make-A-Wish formed this partnership in the 1980s and Mathews said the team has “always just been so fantastic at making sure kids have a really special experience.”
Maria echoed that sentiment while gazing at her daughter’s exuberant face and over at her husband.
On the locker room visit, Maria said: “We weren’t expecting such a surprise, and I turned around and saw my husband and saw that he was crying. It’s just a day full of excitement for us. We love the fact that our daughter is being treated like a celebrity.”