Maddie Bonifas always self-inflicted a lot of pressure to be the best version of herself possible. As a student-athlete, that means taking the most difficult courses and working as hard as possible in practice and in the weight room until she reached her goals. This self-motivation has pushed Maddie to become the successful student athlete that she is today, and earned her the 2019 Ultra Ankle® JVA AthLeader Award. 

But when her mother relapsed with stage IV breast cancer in 2016, she struggled to be that best version of herself. Fortunately, she found comfort when playing the sport she loved.

Volleyball has played a lifesaving role in my life” shares Maddie.  “While my mother was sick, it was an escape from the seriousness of my home life.  Practices and tournaments were an escape from seeing my mother getting sicker.  While my mother was in remission, it was an outlet for my energy and frustration with all of the readjustments at home.  When my mother relapsed, it again became an escape from the fear of losing my mother.”

At the age of 14, Maddie lost her mother to breast cancer.  Volleyball was there for her as a distraction. It allowed her to escape from the sadness and emptiness she felt.

When my mother passed away, it (volleyball) was the only thing that made sense in my life.  It was grounding and simple and the only thing that remained the same throughout everything going on at home.” 

Maddie with her mom

During the first few months after her mother passed away, Maddie found herself in a very dark place. It was during the summer so she had a break from volleyball, and without it, she couldn’t find any stability in her life. 

I contemplated ending my life for the entire summer and only when volleyball started up again did I feel some relief from pain.  Volleyball showed me a light at the end of the tunnel and quite literally saved my life.  Volleyball continues to remain a source of stability and family for me and it will always be one of the biggest sources of joy in my life.”  

During Maddie’s 16’s season, Coach and Executive Director Lexi Patton asked her to lead Virginia Elite’s Dig Pink efforts. Patton wanted to make a difference and thought that Maddie’s personal affiliation with the disease made her the perfect person to take the helm of the club’s Dig Pink efforts.

I felt compelled to accept because I wanted to make the biggest difference possible and use what I had been through to help others.”

Through Maddie’s effort with her club mates, Virginia Elite has raised approximately $12,000 for the Side-Out Foundation. The Dig-a-Thon has brought in the most donations because the pledges are attached to a three day tournament, which is packed with volleyball and therefore a lot of digs.

Raising money for the Side-Out Foundation has been an unforgettable experience because I love knowing that I’m helping to stop families from going through what mine did by finding a cure.”   

Maddie also runs an annual grass tournament called “The Dig Pink Summer Kickoff”, to raise money for the Side-Out Foundation, and brings the community together to support the cause. 

The tournament is so fun to run and participate in with a DJ and food trucks and tons of volleyball out in the sun.  I plan to continue running VA Elite’s Dig Pink efforts for as long as possible and continue running The Dig Pink Summer Kickoff for many years to come.”  

Maddie has reached her senior year and is committed to play volleyball at Christopher Newport University with plans to major in psychology. She wants to connect with people and help them work through their own traumas. 

“I am very excited for what the future holds including my final club season and playing in college. I hope to continue maintaining success in my academics and athletics, while finally getting the chance to explore more of my interests such as hiking, cycling, and photography.” 

We are confident that this self motivated AthLeader will continue to land success on her journey and make a difference in others’ lives.

Virginia Elite is a member of the Junior Volleyball Association, is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the junior volleyball experience for players, coaches, clubs and fans.

To learn more about the Ultra Ankle JVA AthLeader Award click HERE. For related reading for junior volleyball athletes, click HERE.