Elena Delle Donne has been public about her battle with Lyme disease.

Now the WNBA star will serve as the first national ambassador to help promote awareness of the tick-borne disease.

Delle Donne has dealt with the bacterial disease since 2008, and it caused her to miss 18 games on three separate occasions in college at Delaware. After seemingly having it under control, she sat out 17 games for the Chicago Sky this season.

"It's really special because Lyme disease has become part of my life now," Delle Donne said in a phone interview. "I learned that I'll wake up every day and deal with it. There are good days and bad days. If I can be a voice and reach out to people and make them aware of the disease it will help."

The ailment is named after Lyme, Connecticut, where the illness was first identified in 1975. It's often transmitted through the bites of infected deer ticks, and symptoms include a fever, headache and fatigue.

Sometimes there's a rash that looks like a bull's-eye centered around the tick bite. Most people recover with antibiotics, but if left untreated, the infection can cause arthritis and more severe problems.

Delle Donne wasn't fortunate enough to catch the disease early and it's a chronic problem for her. She hopes one day she'll be able to taper off the antibiotics she takes now.

"Maybe it happened for a reason, so that I can help others," said Delle Donne, who plans to speak at colleges and schools.

"We are delighted to welcome Elena as our first LRA Ambassador," said Lyme Research Alliance co-president Debbie Siciliano. "She will spread hope and courage to thousands of people affected by Lyme and other tick-borne diseases."

Delle Donne also became a global ambassador for Special Olympics this year. It's another cause dear to the 25-year-old, whose sister Lizzie is blind, deaf and has cerebral palsy and autism.

Meanwhile, the WNBA's 2013 rookie of the year is running a set of basketball camps for the second straight year, including two in Delaware this weekend. These camps will include Special Olympics athletes.

"The first camp was incredible to see the girls work together," Delle Donne said. "They immediately took the Special Olympic athletes under their wing. It was an infectious atmosphere. It's a special moment when you can break down barriers."

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