Jill Steinberg at home with her daughter’s soccer ball and a collection of cherished photos//Photos by Tessa Marie Images.
In September 2011, Blaine Steinberg left Wynnewood for Hanover, N.H., to begin her freshman year at Dartmouth College. For years, the honors student excelled in the classroom and on the sports field at Penn Charter, winding up at Dartmouth, where she’d been recruited to play lacrosse.
Then came the worst-case scenario. Sometime after 6 p.m. on Friday, March 7, 2014, Jill and Sid Steinberg received a phone call from one of their daughter’s friends. “She said that Blaine had been having chest pains and shortness of breath,” recalls Jill. “They called an ambulance, and Blaine was headed to the hospital.”
Jill talked to a doctor in the emergency room, who said they were doing everything they could to save Blaine, but that she was gravely ill. It seemed impossible. The Steinbergs had just seen their 20-year-old daughter two weekends ago. As they threw together a bag to take with them to her bedside, the hospital called. She was gone. Blaine had suffered a massive heart attack. “The autopsy showed that she had a very rare autoimmune disease, Takayasu arteritis, which is a form of vasculitis,” says Jill. “The doctor said it’s very rare—like getting hit by lightning medically.”
Jill, Sid and their younger daughter, Leigh, were thrust into a nightmare. “The pain never goes away—you just learn to live with it,” says Jill. “We choose now to focus on how she lived, rather than on how she died.”
The family is doing that primarily through the Live Like Blaine Foundation, which they established on the one-year anniversary of her death. One of her friends thought of the name. “A week after Blaine’s funeral, her best friend, Jackson, came to visit and gave us plastic bracelets with ‘Live Like Blaine’ on them,” says Jill. “We told him if we ever started a foundation, that’s what we would call it.”
The mission of the organization is to empower and inspire young women to become leaders through fitness and athletics—to live as Blaine had. “She was a real leader and a real connector,” says Jill. “She was such a genuine person.”
“Blaine had the most generous spirit, and had this incredible ability to connect with people and leave them feeling really good after she spent time with them,” adds Sid. “Through the foundation, we want to pay that generosity of spirit forward.”
The Steinbergs are just two months shy of the second anniversary of the Live Like Blaine Foundation, and they’ve already impacted many lives. In the first few months, they hosted a “Burpees for Blaine” contest. A burpee is a full-body exercise used in CrossFit. Blaine, like her father, was a big CrossFit enthusiast, so the Steinbergs offered a challenge: Do burpees consistently for 30 or 100 days. It went viral internationally, with people posting thousands of online videos.
They raised $100,000 from that initial challenge, donating part of those funds to sending three local teenage girls to the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy in New Jersey. Foudy, a co-captain of the U.S. women’s national soccer team that won the World Cup, was one of Blaine’s biggest sports idols. “The academy is a one-week residential camp for girls ages 12-18, who can pick from either soccer or lacrosse,” says Jill. “Half the time they spend on sports, and the other half they work on leadership.”
Another initiative, Captains’ Practice, happened last January on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. More than 150 female athletes from high schools across the region gathered at Penn Charter for a leadership conference organized by the Steinbergs. The second such event will take place this month, again on MLK Day.
Live Like Blaine has also committed to funding a Philadelphia arm of Harlem Lacrosse. A school-based effort aimed at at-risk middle school students, it currently has programs in New York, Boston and Baltimore. The organization provides a full-time program director, who plays the role of coach, tutor and mentor, helping students build confidence and skill sets both on the field and in the classroom. “Philadelphia has such an amazing lacrosse community,” says Kim Appelt, director of development and curriculum design for Harlem Lacrosse. “It’s a very logical place for us to be.”
So much has happened in such a short period of time that it’s hard to know what the future holds for Live Like Blaine. A graduate of Princeton University and the Wharton School, Jill founded a wealth-management firm that’s now merging with Beacon Pointe Wealth Advisors, where she will become a managing director and partner. She and Sid work full-time, so they just hired an executive director to run the foundation’s day-to-day operations. “[But] we’re confident that we picked initiatives that would have meant a lot to Blaine,” says Sid.
Those initiatives involve a “Leadership Circle” to offer different experiences to young women. Jill also has her own vision for what Live Like Blaine can be in five years. “I hope that we’re impacting a lot of young girls,” she says. “I want the foundation to be known as a force for empowering girls through leadership.”
And there will always be one overarching theme. “We don’t want Blaine to ever be forgotten,” says Jill.
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