Vikes athlete handknits hats for hospitalized children

Sports Sports | Lifestyle

Isolation — that is the fate many children diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses face when they are forced to recover in the hospital.

Isolated from their school friends, sports teams, and music classes, these children undoubtedly feel like they’ve been excluded from a team. Their peers run off and act like kids at a young age should, while hospitalized children are left to watch from the sidelines.

As a varsity swimmer for the University of Victoria Vikes, Taylor Snowden-Richardson knows the importance of a team — which is why she decided to help hospitalized children get back on the field.

Her initiative, Tay’s Team, provides handmade hats for children. Snowden-Richardson volunteers twice a week at the Nanaimo Regional Hospital (NRGH) and uses her relationships there to collaborate with the hospital to donate hats. She listens to what children are interested in, makes a stockpile of those specific hats to donate, and each child’s acceptance onto Tay’s Team is solidified with a greeting card that comes with each hat — welcoming them to the team.

UVic Vikes swimmer, Taylor Snowden-Richardson (centre), poses with her themed hats alongside two staff members dressed as Anna and Elsa, the main characters from Disney's Frozen. Photo via Instagram
UVic Vikes swimmer, Taylor Snowden-Richardson (centre), poses with her themed hats alongside two staff members dressed as Anna and Elsa, the main characters from Disney’s Frozen. Photo via Instagram

“It’s really important that children feel like they have a strong support network,” Snowden-Richardson explains in a phone call. “It’s something that makes them feel like, ‘OK I’m not alone,’ or ‘there is someone out there that cares about me’.”

The project started after a close family friend of Snowden-Richardson was diagnosed with leukemia around Christmastime. To support her five-year-old friend, Snowden-Richardson used her self-taught crochet skills (she credits YouTube) to help let him know she was thinking of him during his tough times.

“I had already learned how to crochet this past year,” Snowden-Richardson says, “and I thought it might be fun to make him a superhero hat.”

The favourite types of hats among the kids are superhero, Angry Birds, and Frozen character hats. Snowden-Richardson also partnered recently with the hospital to work together for a special Frozen themed day.

On June 8, workers dressed up as Princess Anna and Princess Elsa (the main characters from Frozen) visited the NRGH, and Snowden-Richardson made special crowns and hats to help celebrate the day.

“[Princess Anna and Elsa] sing for the kids, sign autographs, take pictures. And they’re amazing,” Snowden-Richardson says. “I made 20 Anna, Elsa, and Olaf crowns and hats.”

It takes a lot of time management skills to balance this project, a full course load, and competing on the Vikes varsity swimming team, especially due to the fact that hats can take anywhere from ninety minutes to four hours to make. However Snowden-Richardson realizes it’s important Vikes student athletes give back to their community.

“The Victoria community is so great,” she says. “They help all of our Vikes athletes so much.”

Although the project started just three weeks ago, it has picked up incredible traction. So far, she has donated about 40 hats to NRGH, and in September she will look at donating to the Victoria General Hospital as well.

In addition to planning to have a monthly Frozen themed day at NRGH, Snowden-Richardson says she has received yarn from other members of the community. One of her swimming teammates has even offered to help sew hats.

The plan, Snowden-Richardson says, is to have children feel part of Tay’s Team and less like they are battling their disease alone.

“The longer in-patients . . . can be in [hospital] for a couple of weeks, and, in that time, they’re taken away from their regular sports teams, dance teams, drama class, or whatever they do,” Snowden-Richardson says.

“Kids really miss that atmosphere of being on a team and knowing they have a team behind them.”

If you want to check out the progress on Tay’s Team or support this cause, visit TaysTeam2017 on Facebook, or @tays_team on Instagram.