When people talk about how great certain players are or who is the toughest of the bunch on the grid-iron they envision those on the field. I don’t. That all changed in 2009 when my own son was battling to keep going after a severe concussion; in fact a year after a severe concussion. It was one of several he had and the one that stopped him from going any further with the sport.
One Sunday this past week I brought together a few of the greatest Warriors in the Pacific NW who have survived the games worst enemy and most infamous killer. Namely Second Impact Syndrome, severe concussions, and broken necks. Our group BrainChampions.org was founded in 2009 after Matthew Newman (Highland HS Washington) and Drew Swank (Spokane, Washington) both went down on the same night. Newman would survive his SIS injury after many months and years of therapy. Drew Swank was not so lucky passing away on Sunday night with his family by his side. Both had severe brain bleeds caused by SIS. Both could have had their injuries prevented had those around them done the right things. Using that motivation and our own sons struggle we dug in and worked for change in a sport that has defined our family over the years. These two young men and their families along with the amazing Zack Lystedt and his family (1st law in the US to protect K-12 Athletes) and others worked in 2008 and 2009 to change the world. While we did that and started the fire that is now Concussion and Traumatic Brain Injury awareness there is still so much more to do.
People forget these guys folks. Teams and players and even best friends move on and these boys and dozens like them have been left in the dust and for the most part battle alone with family and a few friends to just live any sort of normal life. For me the battle is now more about support and less about change. We have worked for change from banning youth tackle football to requiring all teams have a trainer and ambulance on the field on game nights. That is something that less then 50% of schools provide even today. Helmets and new gear will not save these boys. Only limiting hits, managing their health and recovery, and better awareness and coaching can do that. Maybe a lot of luck as well.
But this is 2016 right? So when the Seahawks offered me VIP passes for some of the boys to come to watch the sport they all still love I jumped into action. I gathered a few of these young men and their families and off we went.
Meeting up this past Sunday at the V-Mac where the Hawks practice were Highland HS QB Matthew Newman, Priest River HS linebacker Bobby Clark, Zack Lystedt, Adna High Schools David Young, and Angel Oros from Pateros HS. All of these boys except Young had the SIS injury and survived a partial skull removal and months and years of recovery and therapy. All of them battle to make it daily and suffer long term effects from their injuries.
Young who was a 3 sport star athlete at powerful Adna High School came off the field hurt last year complaining of neck pain and was more of less told to shake it off. After a while and continued pain his parents took him directly to the hospital where they were shocked to find his neck had been severed and he was very close to death. David is very lucky to be alive and had it not been for the tremendous work of his family and some amazing Seattle area doctors he would have.
Angel Oros went down that same night with a severe brain bleed and was in the room down the hall from Young at Harborview Hospital. Next to Young was Evergreen HS (WA) athlete Kenny Bui who went down on the field that night as well. This terrible three way nightmare brought all of these boys and their families to the one place in Washington that really does an amazing job. 3 of them went in there and only 2 of them made it home.
Bobby Clark went down a few years back at Priest River High School in Idaho and survived, like Newman and Lystedt, his SIS surgery. You want to talk about a Warrior? This guy is a rock star. But heck they all are!
These 5 and their families joined us and the Seahawks opened a small window in time, about 3 hours, in which these great young men could bask in the glory that they all shared playing America’s sport. For a few minutes they got to be together with the 12’s and the Seahawks Nation. Practice was magical and the memories and friendships made in just 3 hours will last forever. It truly was a great experience.
Football’s Greatest Warriors Meet Pete And The Seahawks
Win Forever is Coach Pete Carroll’s Book. I always have liked Coach Pete- he is a very interesting man way beyond football. But at his core is a competitor that wants to Win and he wants to be the best in all he does. At the end of the day what he teaches is that we have to Compete at 110% all the time to become our best selves. What I saw in him before the event was taken to another level when he approached Bobby Clark and our rag tag crew of football warriors at the end of practice.
“I got hurt playing football Coach,” cried Bobby in his emotional and powerful voice.
Coach Pete answered back, “I know Bobby, and we have to work on that and fix the problem!”
“Thank You Coach! I can not believe I am meeting Pete Carroll,” he cried with tears of happiness and joy.
“We need to get you to a game Bobby,” said Coach.
“Oh my God! Oh my God! Can I really come to a game,” Bobby replied.
“You bet Bobby. Let’s make it happen!”
What happened next was Coach Carroll taking time to not only get pictures with all of us but he sat on the edge of Clark’s wheel chair and was just present. He stopped what he was doing with a line up of major media waiting on him to show some love and acknowledgement for Clark and Newman, Young, and others that flanked him. This was Win Forever to me. He won the moment and in a world where the NFL needs leaders and heroes and in a time where most are running from cover from the concussion tsunami…well Pete Carroll was the guy.
The Seahawks can do more and should. Kicker Steven Hauschka and Russell Wilson came to the boys, so did Jake Heaps, and Luke Wilson and several others. The signatures and words of encouragement might be a small thing for them but they did it and we all want to thank them as an organization from the bottom of our hearts. Lives were changed and you have to know that Bobby, who is one of the most wonderful and caring people I have ever met, has already asked me what game we are going to!
We have to acknowledge Coach Jeff Schmidt, a long time friend and High School coach in Seattle, who saw us and came to support us and brought some current and former plyers over to visit the boys. Also Connie Cate from the Seahawks who has allowed us two visits to the Camp over the past few years and has been amazing to work with. We also so want to thank Pacific NW Football Hall of Fame member and the last original Seahawks employee (1976) Sandy Gregory for helping get Coach Pete and the players to our group in a sea of fans on Sunday! She was amazing- in fact the entire staff at the V-Mac was!
Football’s greatest warriors are not on the field. They are in the stands and in hospital beds and at treatment facilities and at home. All of them seemingly cast aside by the game they helped build. Most of them would go back in a second in they could and push their fingers and bodies into the grass on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. But they can’t. The NFL, the NCAA, and all of our High School and youth programs need to do more. We have not done near enough to help those in need and those that will be in need.
Sunday there was hope, at least for our group, that things might be getting a little bit better.
Enjoy these pictures from Sunday and feel the emotion that we all felt!
Thank you to all the boys and families that came out and please feel free to join us with your support, your stories, and let us know of any athletes we can help at our website BrainChampions.org.