EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) – When the Indiana women’s basketball team take the floor against University of Connecticut in the Sweet 16, they’ll have their secret weapon, Payton Bernhardt on the sideline.
“It’s scary, diagnosis are scary especially when you hear the word rare,” Payton’s mom Bobbie Bernhardt said.
Avid Hoosier fan Payton Barnhardt is an 8-year old girl, who lives in Evansville, Indiana was diagnosed with Juvenile Dermatomyositis (JDM) she has been presented with many hurdles over the last year since her diagnosis.
Through everything she’s been through, she has now created a special bond with the Indiana women’s basketball team.
“They give me hugs,” Payton said. “I stand for the national anthem with them, but I was a little nervous. I’m really fired up too.”
Payton’s mom Bobbie says their family is a big sports family and they love IU. Coincidentally, Bobbie was a team manager for the women’s team 20 years ago when she attended the university.
Bobbie says Payton was always very shy but being around the team has really broken Payton out of her shell.
“So grateful that this opportunity presented itself. it’s done wonders for her emotional health,” Bobbie said. “Just made her feel special and make her feel a part of something and it’s just been a great distraction for her mind.”
Payton was matched with the team through “Team Impact”, a nonprofit that pairs children facing serious illnesses and disabilities with college teams.
“Being able to look down there on the court at assembly hall and seeing Payton down there and being a member of the team and just seeing all the IU girls kind of boost Payton’s spirit and be there as a team member,” Payton’s father Matt Bernhardt said.
Payton’s parents say they were fortunate to catch the disease early and they were able to get her the treatment.
“Primarily as a rash for her which other kids it manifest more in muscle weakness which makes it I think even a little more difficult for parents to know that something is going on,” Bobbie said.