When Florida softball alumna Francesca Enea first met Ian Lockwood, it was love at first sight — for Ian at least.
“We’re so blessed that Franny walked into the room that day, and Ian loved her from the moment he saw her,” his mother, Denise, said. “Then he found out she was engaged, and he was like ‘Awww man.’ It didn’t keep him from trying.”
The two met in 2009 during Enea’s senior year while visiting the Infusion room at Shands Children’s Hospital alongside teammates Megan Bush and Stephanie Brombacher.
“We walked in there, and I immediately saw Ian and his mom, and I was like ‘Those look like people I want to talk to,’ and we just hit it off,” Enea said.
They both spent time on the diamond, as Ian was a catcher, and even sported the number 10 on their jerseys.
But their friendship went beyond the field and that number.
“We have loved Francesca from the day I met her,” Denise said. “I knew she was special and she did things for Ian that no one else could do.”
She flew him out to Los Angeles to sit courtside at a Lakers’ game for his 18th birthday. And she introduced him to Gators safety Ahmad Black because he really wanted to meet a football player, being one himself.
“They just hit it off,” Enea said. “It’s hard not to. People are just drawn to Ian.”
In turn, Black introduced Ian to Urban Meyer, who presented him with the game ball following the Gators’ Outback Bowl win over Penn State in January.
While Ian was in Gainesville getting treatment for brain cancer, Meyer invited the Lockwoods to practices and team dinners. Ian also spent time eating meals and socializing with other UF athletes.
“He just hung out with them like a friend, and I think that’s what Ian loved about the UF players is they all treated him like a friend and not like a cancer patient,” Denise said. “Everybody just really took him under their wing, and he got a lot of special memories and moments from them.”
After Saturday’s thrilling win against Alabama, it was Ian’s memory being honored by Enea and others during the Swinging for a Cure Home Run Derby.
Ian died on Jan. 28, ending his battle with the disease just months after a tumor reappeared during the last week of September. It was just months after he was medically cleared to score two touchdowns in his final high school game on Oct. 8. And just 27 days after receiving the game ball.
The derby in his honor was held to collect pledges for the Shands Brain Tumor Research Department.
Along with Black, current Gators Trey Burton and Erving Walker, former Gators Shane Matthews and Chris Doering, and USA softball’s Jessica Mendoza all took swings from two-time NCAA National Player of the Year Danielle Lawrie.
And while nothing was hit out of Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium, the event still made its mark on the crowd and those involved.
Lawrie said the event was a humbling experience, especially after losing someone to cancer last summer while playing for the USSSA Pride.
“You just realize that it hurts so many people and affects so many people, so if we can get so many people out, and donate money, and help the best we can, it’s huge,” Lawrie said.
Mendoza, who is a Pride teammate of Enea and Lawrie, said her relationship with Enea and the fact that the University of Florida contributes so much to cancer awareness were among the reasons she participated.
“Anytime you’re helping a good cause, especially one like cancer… It’s something that I wanted to be a part of,” Mendoza said.
Before the game, Enea presented the Lockwood family with a framed jersey of her own with an attached picture of Ian in his. His younger sister, Alyssa, threw out the first pitch.
“I think it’s amazing that people did it for him because he would want people to know that everyone needs to fight (cancer),” Alyssa said.
As for Enea, she could not hold back the tears while presenting the jersey and talking about the event afterwards.
“It means a lot because I love him, obviously, and I was super close with Ian,” she said. “If I didn’t go to the University of Florida, I never would have met him, so it’s really special to me.”
If it wasn’t for Ian, Enea and Black would not have developed the friendship they honed in on after holding hands and sharing tears during Ian’s memorial service.
“We were never like really good friends before, but Ian has brought us closer together and I’m so happy for it,” she said. “I don’t know where I would be without Ahmad because he does so much for the Lockwoods, and I just truly am so grateful that they were able to get such a great bond.”
“He was a great kid,” Black said. “I loved being around Ian. He just brought a smile to my face every time he was around. He impacted my life just as much as I impacted his, so I love his family, and I’ll always be there.”
While the Lockwoods were honored for the event in Ian’s name, Denise said the key to moving forward in finding a cure is having people donate to the cause.
“Ian donated his cancer in his brain to science and he wants to find the cure, and that’s what we’re trying to do is raise money and raise awareness that people need to give what little bit they can to Dr. (Amy A.) Smith’s Pediatrics Brain Tumor Program,” she said.
As for moving forward after the death of one of their own, the Lockwoods have added many more members to the family along the way, including Enea.
“We love her,” Denise said. “Love her, love her, love her.”
Gator Country reporter Safid Deen can be reached at Safid@GatorCountry.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SafidDeenGC.