Tennis Team Adds Young Cancer Patient to its Team

Tennis Team Adds Young Cancer Patient to its Team

Rice University’s men’s tennis team has positively impacted the life of Bennett Nester thanks to its connection with the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, which pairs up children battling brain cancer with supportive college sports teams.

Bennett with the team

Efe Ustundag, coach of the Rice’s men’s tennis team, was contacted by former Pepperdine coach, Adam Steinberg, for a family out in Katy who wanted a sports team for their son, Bennett. Since that phone call, everything has changed, and Bennett has become a huge part of the Rice tennis family.

Bennett is a 4 year-old brain cancer patient who was diagnosed with Pineal Juvenile Pilocytic Astrocytoma in December 2011. He has spent nearly all of his life battling this cancer which causes hydrocephalus on his brain. Currently, Bennett is a member of the Rice men’s tennis team, having his own locker in the new George R. Brown tennis facility, decorated with wrapping from one of his favorite movies, “Cars.”

Zackary Yablon, a Sport Management major who plays on the men’s tennis team, thoroughly enjoys having Bennett as a part of the team. He recalled one of his favorite stories from earlier in the season:

“We were in the locker room before playing Northwestern and Efe was giving a pre-match speech when Bennett interrupted and said ‘Let’s just play tennis,’ Yablon said. “He really lightened the mood and our nerves went away. We ended up beating Northwestern who was a top 20 team in the country for a huge upset.”

Another sophomore tennis player, David Warren, has had the opportunity to spend some extra time with Bennett. He says this is because he is from the Houston area and has more free time during breaks to go visit him. David was able to attend several chemotherapy sessions with Bennett as well as participate in fun activities together, like ice skating at the Galleria and swimming at the Rice recreational center.

Team member with Bennett

“Bennett not only helps our team keep everything in perspective, but he is a great kid with a relentless amount of energy and enthusiasm, Warren said. He always has a smile on his face and never complains about what he has to go through. We all love Bennett and we hope that he can stay apart of our team for many years to come.”

Bennett recently finished a tough 6-week proton therapy treatment, and is now able to go back to school. Even though the tennis team is in season at the moment and busier than normal, they continue to set aside time for their All-Star teammate.

“Being in season has made it a little bit harder to spend time with Bennett, although there isn’t a day where the team doesn’t think of him,” Warren said. “We set aside every possible chance as a team to see him but the hectic class schedule coupled with travel doesn't make it easy.”

It is obvious to see the positive impact the Rice men’s tennis team has had on Bennett in the past year. And even while the Rice men have been positive role models and a light in the midst of his cancer, Bennett has touched their lives in even more ways.

Andi Bawcum, a junior from Paris, Texas, is double majoring in Sport Management and Psychology. Megan Shafer, a senior from The Woodlands, Texas, is double majoring in Sport Management and Religious Studies.