Friday, August 8, 2008

Don't be too cynical about the Olympics...

cynicism about sports is easy. We are used to being that way. But I offer you a ray of hope in our suspicious, expecting performance-enhancing drugs world.

We do have some GOOD people there. I even know one of them. He's a member of the US Soccer team. Yesterday, he scored the winning goal in the match against Japan. But, as much as I love and respect Stu, I wish I didn't know him.......

You see, we met Stuart while my 14 year old son, AJ, was at Texas Children's hospital fighting childhood cancer.

AJ was also an athlete, winning championships in soccer in North Carolina State Games, hockey championships, and a star receiver and track athlete for this school.

He was diagnosed with childhood cancer on Father's Day 2007. He fought valiantly, courageously and gracefully for 8 hard months. On January 5, 2008, God decided AJ was the only person on Earth who could do what He needed done, and AJ left us.

AJ truly was a remarkable young man. He was born during a blizzard in March 1993, and to this day I remember him not crying and breathing right after being born, and the doctor and nurses rushing around in the delivery room. But after he took that first breath, boy, did he breathe deep the rest of his life. He lived life. He was always smiling. He loved sports, people, music, playing the guitar, animals, movies, good books. He thought. He had fun; always made people laugh, did the right things, did everything at 110%, and was simply just a joy to be around. He was the love of our lives. During the last couple months, as we would be alone in the hospital room together at night and talk, and at finally at home, I came to know that, believe it or not, this 14 year old was truly the most evolved person I have ever known. Before I ever heard of Randy Pausch I had my 14 year old son telling me "We gotta deal with the hand we're dealt Dad."

Stuart visits kids at the hospital on a regular basis. It's not the typical show up, sign some autographs and head out. He devotes so much time, energy and feeling to it. I know. And here's why.

We first met Stu soon after diagnosis. He and Craig Waibel his teammate came to visit kids, and of course visited AJ. Over the next 8 months, they became fast friends, calling, texting, visiting even with their busy schedules. They all touched each other somehow. They would trash talk about sports, razz AJ for giving up soccer and playing football and just laugh. When we were ready to leave the hospital for the last time, there were no more treatments to try, Stuart showed up. He had just won the 2007 Major League Soccer Championship as a member of the Houston Dynamo. He brought the big silver MLS Championship Cup. And his championship gold medal. He and AJ held the cup high and kissed it. AJ had always told me he would hold a professional championship cup, and Stuart made that dream come true. Before he left, Stuart took his gold medal and placed it around AJs neck and said, "AJ, I want you to have this". AJ made me so proud, again, and said, "I can't accept this Stuart". Stuart insisted and finally AJ simply said "Thank you Stu".

We then heard how Stuart broke his medal and had to run to his Mom in the stands for a safety pin to fix it so it would look good for all the pictures after the game. So much like something AJ would have to do with his Mom. We laughed and cried. And finally we were left in the room with the championship medal, marveling at it and Stuart both. Simply a beautiful gesture that brought AJ so much joy. Such a selfless act. At a recent charity event, I had a chance to repay Stuart in a small way by presenting him with a Gold Medal AJ won when he played in the NC State Championship soccer games at the age of 8. Stuart wrote me after being named to the Olympic team, and said AJs medal means more to him than the MLS medal. He has it framed with his MLS Championship jersey, just like we have the MLS Gold medal framed with AJ's football jersey that was retired by his school. The story was documented in the Houston Chronicle.

So I write today for two reasons. One, to make you aware of the quality of people representing the US in China today. Stuart in particular. This 22 year old young man displayed qualities that we should all strive for, should all hope for in our own children. He made an impact on AJ and us that we will never forget. He is not only a great soccer player but, more importantly, a great human being.

And secondly, to make you aware of childhood cancer. It is the #1 killer disease of our children today, more than from asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, congenital anomalies, and pediatric AIDS combined. 1 in 300 will be diagnosed before the age of 20. There are 12,500 kids diagnosed every year, with 2,500 deaths. And, of course, since funding is largely a PR game/battle, frankly, our kids don't do as well as pink ribbons, nor do most get the advantages that some do.

We promised AJ we would fight it. Stuart wants to be put out of the job of having to visit cancer kids. We are raising awareness through an on-line petition with nearly 13,000 signatures as of today. It is supported by CureSearch, the largest childhood cancer organization whose members treat 90% of childhood cancer case; LIVESTRONG (Lance Armstrong's Foundation), Alex's Lemonade Stands, Texas Children's Hospital and Duke Medical Center. It is being spread by a nationwide network of parents, friends and family.

We started before the Stand Up 2 Cancer show was announced, which frankly, we don't expect to tell you much about childhood cancer. Our goal is to have network TV produce a special SOLELY on childhood cancer and make the "uninitiated" American public aware of this ongoing tragedy affecting our precious children. To raise awareness of childhood cancer and ultimately raise funding for a cure. We will not stop until it happens. Please join us by signing the Petition.

I know a couple guys with Gold Medals that would want you to......So, I hope that you consider this story this weekend, as you watch the spectacle. As you ponder if they are spoiled brats or just honest, hard working kids. I can vouch for at least one of em...

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