As a professional basketball player, Elena Delle Donne puts her heart and soul into more than just the court she plays on.
The forward guard for the Chicago Sky WNBA team and U.S. Olympian is in the early stages of the Elena Delle Donne Charitable Foundation. The foundation aims to raise money for Lyme disease research and giving back to the special needs community.
“[These are the] two avenues it will attack because both of those are near and dear to my heart,” Delle Donne said.
Delle Donne has dealt with Lyme disease every day for eight years.
“It’s definitely tough, there are good days and bad days,” Delle Donne said. “There are days I’ve relapsed and missed several games and practices.”
Lyme disease is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks.
The other cause Delle Donne is raising awareness to through her foundation is based around her older sister who has special needs. Her sister Lizzie is both blind and deaf.
Delle Donne and Lizzie can only communicate in person with hand over hand sign language.
“I can just remember growing up with her [and] the impact she had on my life, not just her but being around her peers and what that meant to me,” Delle Donne said.
Despite their struggles, Lizzie and her friends always stayed positive.
“[They were] going through days with struggles but were always so bright and happy and I feel like it’s a gift that needs to be shared,” Delle Donne said.
Through the foundation, Delle Donne hopes to bring her love of sports together with those who have special needs.
“For me I would really like to see programs with more unified sports and that’s something the Special Olympics do and I absolutely love it,” Delle Donne said.
Unified sports are when special needs athletes play along normal able athletes.
Delle Donne hosts basketball camps where she also has Special Olympics athletes participate.
In order to raise awareness for Lyme Disease and special needs, Delle Donne is in the early stages of planning a golf tournament and auction for fundraising.
“I love golf,” Delle Donne said. “It’s one of my other passions and something I like to.”
While she enjoys golf, Delle Donne jokes that she is not good enough to play professionally but plays as a hobby.
Delle Donne first began thinking about starting her foundation when she entered the pros. Within the past year, it all started to come together.
“A lot of times unfortunately if you don’t have this platform it’s hard to be heard,” Delle Donne said. “I’m not exactly sure what I would be doing but I think I would be a special education teacher.”