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NORMAL — Illinois State's softball team signed a new player on Monday evening, but the focus wasn't on power and speed.

It was on strength of character.

Coen Frambes, age 8, of Fairbury, surrounded by her family and members of the softball team at Redbird Arena, signed a national letter of intent to join the softball team through a program called Team IMPACT. Team IMPACT is a national nonprofit that connects children with serious and chronic illnesses with college athletic teams to form bonds that help the children and the student-athletes.

Coen has juvenile dermatomyositis (JDM), a rare inflammatory disease of the muscle, skin and blood vessels.

For Coen, it means joint pain, weak core and neck muscles and redness on her nose and fingers, she and her parents, Kelly and Dave Frambes, told The Pantagraph after she signed her letter on Monday evening. It also means physical therapy, 18 pills a day, one injection a week and a monthly infusion at a hospital to keep her symptoms under control, they said.

There is no cure.

Coen was 3 when she was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis. When she developed muscle weakness, a strange rash and blisters on her nose and fingers, she was diagnosed with JDM at age 5, her parents said.

"With JDM, her immune system sends the wrong messages to her body, attacking her muscles and skin," her mother explained.

"But through the whole thing, Coen has been a trooper," Kelly Frambes said, adding "She doesn't know what normal feels like."

"It's hard because of all my medicines I'm on," Coen said. "Taking the shot is my least favorite."

"I play volleyball and softball and the other girls are stronger than me," Coen said.

Then, why does she play?

"Because then I keep fighting my JDM," Coen said.

It's that spirit that drew the softball team and their coach, Melinda Fischer, to Coen. Fisher said she believes the softball team is the first ISU team to join Team IMPACT, which is a nationwide effort connecting kids with college teams since 2011.

Fischer said that Coen will attend some softball games, Saturday practices and team dinners. Some softball players, in turn, will attend some of Coen's softball games.

"I'm really excited about it," Coen said.

"She's an inspiration for the team," said Spenser Strandgard, a sophomore and first baseman who is captain of the softball team's leadership team for Team IMPACT.

"For her, we hope she gains confidence," Strandgard told The Pantagraph.

"For us, it reminds us that there are a lot bigger things in life than a softball game," Strandgard said.

"Our athletes are very fortunate," Fischer said. "This puts things in perspective."

"This is amazing," Kelly Frambes said. "The biggest thing (for Coen) is seeing such positive role models."

Dave Frambes smiled.

"It's a win-win-win situation across the board," he said.

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Contact Paul Swiech at (309) 820-3275. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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Health Reporter

Health reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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