Born October 19, 1985 to Cheryl and Pat, Nicholas “Head” Colleluori was the third of four brothers raised in Holmes, Pa., a blue-collar neighborhood in suburban Philadelphia. A 2004 graduate of Ridley High School, where he earned 12 varsity letters as a three-sport star, Nicholas played collegiate lacrosse at Hofstra University. An undersized athlete noted for his never-give-up mental toughness, determination and aggressiveness, Nicholas played nose guard at 185 pounds and was a technician on the wrestling mat in his school. At Hofstra, Nicholas took the field in all 16 games as a freshman, cracking the Pride’s lineup and seeing significant minutes on their man-down unit.
In April 2005, toward the end of his freshman season, Nicholas had difficulty hearing play calls and his family’s cheers during a game against Delaware, and he woke up the following morning unable to hear from his right ear. After having his inflamed adenoids removed, a series of tests revealed Nicholas had large B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a blood cancer affecting the lymphatic system. Nicholas withdrew from Hofstra and returned home with his family to be treated at The Hospital of The University of Pennsylvania. Though the initial diagnosis was positive, doctors later told the Colleluori’s that Nicholas should have lived for only three months due to aggressiveness of the cancer. But true to Nicholas’ relentless attitude, he endured a 14-month battle with cancer, undergoing chemotherapy, radiation and a stem cell transplant, along with experimental treatments.
Nicholas passed away November 28, 2006, but his legacy will live forever. Shortly after being diagnosed, Nicholas created the HEADstrong Foundation to raise awareness for blood cancer and help others afflicted by the disease. He drew the organization’s logo moments before entering the operating room for a procedure, and outlined its mission and future through various computer documents. After doctors told Nicholas there was nothing they could do to prolong his fight, Nicholas made his final wishes to his parents on a ride home from the hospital. He took the car keys out of his father’s hands and said, ‘Dad, you’re too upset to drive. Mom, I want you drive. Dad, I want you to get in the back seat because there are some things I need to talk to Mom about,’” Cheryl Colleluori recalls. “He held my hand. We were sitting side-by-side. I’m driving home, and Nick says, ‘I want to talk about three things, and I never want to talk about them again.’” First, he wanted to be cremated and buried. Second, he wanted a memorial scholarship at Ridley High School and at Hofstra University. And finally, Nicholas said, “Mom, I need you to take the Foundation to where it needs to go. “Don’t question anything,” he told her. “[The lacrosse family] is my brotherhood. They won’t turn their backs on you.”
Nicholas provided the HEADstrong blueprint, and the Colleluori family is committed to carrying out his vision. As the Colleluori’s like to say, “Nick’s got his foot on the Foundation’s gas pedal, and we are doing our best to steer this thing.” Since 2006, the HEADstrong Foundation has raised more than $3.7 million to help find a cure for the disease that took Nicholas’ life. Just like Nicholas, they’re relentless in their efforts.