Reena Robinson, We Serve First's Scholarship athlete for the 2020 club season

How a few volleyball connections led Reena to Olympians, Pittsburgh, and We Serve First

AUGUST 14, 2019

"I believe that life is chaotic, a jumble of accidents, ambitions, misconceptions, bold intentions, lazy happenstances, and unintended consequences, yet I also believe that there are connections that illuminate our world, revealing its endless mystery and wonder." David Maraniss - Author of books on Barack Obama, Vince Lombardi, and Roberto Clemente

So many times in our lives chance encounters lead to meaningful relationships. I have been so fortunate in this way. The playfulness of the universe has brought me many special friends and unexpected adventures. Many of them were present this weekend in the gym at Give it Back's Pittsburgh Camp to witness the newest special friends--2020 Club scholarship winner Reena Robinson and her mom, Donna. What compelled them to make the 5 1/2 hour drive from their home in Delaware to Pittsburgh is part of what makes this story a good one.

What is it that puts us in the same orbit? Cancer and the most unlikely of connections. One is unfortunate, and the other is at least, curious and cool. Reena's club coach is Bob Trinsey. Bob and his wife Gina run Brandywine Volleyball Club. Bob's son, Joe, was an Assistant Coach with the US Women's National Team for the 2016 Olympics, a team that was Captained by Christa Harmotto-Deitzen. Stay with me, we'll come back to this.

From Donna, Reena's mom:

"Reena was beginning her freshman year in high school. She started to complain of pain in her right lower abdomen. She saw her pediatrician. In September and they treated her for a pulled muscle. The pain would come and go. In the middle of October she started to sleep more and her appetite decreased. She went back to the doctor and they ordered blood work and an ultrasound. The ultrasound showed a mass in her right lower abdomen. She was admitted to A I DuPont Hospital on October 24th and was diagnosed with a stage 4 ovarian yolk sac tumor. She had surgery October 25th to remove a football size tumor from her abdomen. They removed her right ovary during the surgery. The doctors could not say what chemo would do to her left ovary so Reena opted to have fertility treatment before chemo. She received 3 shots a day for 2 weeks. After fertility treatment was over she was treated at CHOP, she had 4 cycles of chemotherapy that made her very nauseous, lose her hair and caused her kidneys to take a hit. She had scans and blood work March 5th and as of March 6th doctors said she was cancer free. She will have blood work done every month and scans done every 3 months for a year."

Reena's club coach and his wife, the Trinseys, became aware of Reena's condition, and sprang into action. Reena was a big fan of Christa, so they contacted their son Joe (with his connection to the US National Team) to ask if he could persuade Christa to send Reena an autographed picture, and perhaps a few words of comfort and support. Not surprisingly, Christa went the extra mile, furnishing an autographed USA jersey. Reena's mom, Donna, completed the circle. She researched the kind Olympian on Facebook and discovered that Christa was running the Give it Back Camp here in Pittsburgh. Donna explained:

"Reena made the varsity volleyball team at St Elizabeth as a freshman but missed the last 2 regular season games and the first playoff game. She missed most of her club season but got her port removed April 17th and joined her team at NEQ's April 18th. She continued to practice and her club team went to Nationals in June. Then Christa sent Reena a signed jersey and Reena was so excited. I didn't know who she was I started to search for her on Facebook to thank her and let her know how excited Reena was. I saw that she was running the camp and asked Reena if she wanted to go and she said yes yes yes. So that�s how we got there."

Some of the 26 We Serve First kids

So, I guess this is where I come in. Staying true to the theme of crazy connections, through twitter I have myself made some interesting contacts with the US Women's National Team. This led me to be a part of the planning for Give it Back Camp when it was announced it would be in Pittsburgh. The We Serve First Foundation would place 26 of the participants in this impressive camp, all hoping to hone the skills of volleyball before their high school tryouts. I designed a logo and printed

tee shirts for the coaches and my 26 athletes. Arriving early, a staked out a table in the hallway and watched as the athletes arrived. It wasn't long before I noticed a young girl with short curly black locks, and my first thought was "she had chemo not to long ago, yet here she is, smiling and ready to compete." I knew she would be the perfect fit for the 2020 We Serve First Club Scholarship!

Jaime and Ellen shortly after Ellen's diagnosis and Jaime's relapse.

But I wasn't the only one to notice. Current Kiski Area Head Coach Jodie McCartney, who lost her sister Jaime to Leukemia(she was Ellen's dedicated Asst. Coach) saw something familiar and special too:

"Hearing Reena's story, and watching her on the court working her way back to playing a sport she loves, reminded me so much of Jaime. Her desire to learn and effort to get better in those two days was an inspiration. I can't wait to continue following her story. Funny how life works: the USA Olympic Athletes who supported Ellen coming to Pittsburgh, being introduced to Reena, and me, taking over the Kiski Area volleyball program. I can't help but smile that we are doing what we are supposed to be doing despite our immense loss. Definitely signs from Ellen and Jaime."

Camp Host Christa Deitzen agrees:

"I immediately knew that the stories connected, between you and Jodie, Jodie and Jaime, Jaime and Ellen, Ellen and you, you and I, Reena and me. It's crazy to think, but she was the perfect selection for the We Serve First club scholarship. So glad that it all worked out this way!"

It is with great pride that We Serve First has the opportunity to support Reena this upcoming club season, and it is with great wonder that we recognize how cool it is that we all met here, at the confluence of the three rivers, at give it Back's Pittsburgh Camp.

To close, here is why we feel so strongly about supporting volleyball athletes. As Ellen's inspiring video describes:

"The idea is so simple. Serving starts a match, and in the end, it's all about service. Ellen wanted to help others see what a wonderful sport volleyball is, and also see what a caring community surrounds it."

If you have an inquiry about future sponsorship or would like to help with a donation, contact us at

Tim Toy

We Serve First Foundation

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