Sitting in the stands at Springfield College’s Blake Arena, the Volz-Benoit family cheers and roots for the Pride’s men’s gymnastics team at every home meet. With five children, the family comes equipped with the strength in numbers that any good cheering section truly demands from its constituents. However, the family isn’t cheering on a sibling or relative when they’re in the arena. They’re cheering on teammates.
Their son Zachary has been involved with TeamIMPACT since 2014 as the men’s gymnastics team’s “draft choice” with the program that pairs local collegiate sports teams with children with life-threatening and chronic illnesses. Any feelings of hesitation and reticence before meeting with the team quickly went away and the family felt genuinely accepted by the gymnasts and their families.
“We have had nothing but kindness from the team,” Eric Volz-Benoit said. “They’ve taken to our kids like crazy. Even though Zach was drafted to the team, they’ve taken to all of the kids too. So all the kids have been treated like part of the team and the guys have been amazing to us. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. There are parents of guys on the team who go to every meet and we’ve developed relationships with them too. They really treat Zach like he’s on the team.”
Most successful teams, regardless of the sport, have to be a cohesive and supportive unit coming together for a common goal. For the Volz-Benoit family, their team was built not through a draft or free agency, but adoption. The five Volz-Benoit kids are as follows: Zachary, 8, Tyler, 7, Ryan and Mandie are 7, and 6, and Jayden is 5.
All five of the kids struggle with their own medical challenges that run the gamut from cerebral palsy, to autism, to post-traumatic stress disorder. Though working with these challenges, the children have become the sunshine of Eric and his husband Dennis’s lives. Eric works as a nurse by day and has seen a lot of the challenges his kids face up close while on the job. Each child is unique in their challenges but as a family, the take it all in stride and keep powering through the adversity together.
Zachary has been living with the family since 2008 and gets some of his medical care through a coordinated program at the facility where Eric works. This care includes everyday occurrences such as using a wheelchair and feeding tube.
“The kids don’t really focus on [their challenges] because to them it’s normal,” Eric said. “Having Zach around is normal for us and we treat it normally. If we go somewhere we take him with us. We all go out and do fun things and take the whole family. It’s been really neat with how accepting people have been of us. For us, we don’t really question it.”
Volz-Benoit preaches patience for parents with children battling significant medical needs. The road to adoption is a long one, but a sense of persistence and an expanded knowledge base is vital to perfectly navigating the entire process.
“One of the things we’ve learned so much about kids with complex medical conditions is to just go with the flow,” Eric said. “Learn as much as you can about the condition, but also remember that just because you have a child with cerebral palsy, there are 150,000 different ways that cerebral palsy manifests itself. These kids are very functional, but then there are other kids who are very disabled, You just have to educate yourself and give yourself the picture of what you’re dealing with.”
For every family, like any team playing under the weight of being in championship contention, the journey is all about being able to weather the storm of adversity. For the Volz-Benoit family, rolling with those punches comes with a fair amount of routine and patience. In their house, the bonds of family can’t be broken by any challenges that they face together.