A few years ago, I met a little boy in Wisconsin named Jack Bartosz.
Jack was battling pediatric cancer, but you wouldn’t have known it from his demeanor. I was able to spend time with him on a bunch of occasions — just playing, laughing and having fun — and he was always an absolute joy to be around.
I was immediately struck by the positive attitude, courage and happiness Jack showed, even in the face of what were some extremely difficult health issues. And each time I hung out with him, I came away better for it. He became my friend, and a true inspiration to me.
Unfortunately, Jack passed away in 2012 at the age of 10. But I’ll never forget the times I spent with him. He truly lived every single day to the fullest, and his passing only strengthened my resolve to make a difference for kids battling cancer.
Thanks to Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer, and the organization’s MACC Fund, I’ve been able to lend a hand in that fight. MACC raises money for research to combat childhood cancer and blood-borne disease, and they also help provide wonderful patient care to kids battling cancer. I was introduced to the MACC Fund several years ago by a friend of mine, and when he first told me about the work they do everything just sort of clicked. When I was a junior college player back in Northern California, I had spent some time with a truly wonderful and inspirational young man who had leukemia. So when I was learning about the MACC Fund, I remembered how incredible that boy’s courage and strength and toughness had been. After hanging out with him a few times, and really getting to know him, I kind of made a promise to myself that if I ever had a chance to help other kids like him, I would take that opportunity and run with it. So that’s what I’ve tried to do by partnering with the MACC Fund, and as a result I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of amazing children and families.
In the process of working with the MACC Fund over the years, and spending time with Jack, I was able to meet and get to know his incredible family. They’ve really been an inspiration to me in so many ways. Jack’s twin sister, Annie, is actually at the forefront of the movement to help children with cancer. She’s developed her own awareness initiative, called the G9 Project, which is campaigning to make gold the color for September, similar to how other colors are used to support various causes. The idea is to bring all the charities and organizations working to eradicate childhood cancer together under one banner, and to have everyone wear gold to show support.
Annie is an incredible young person, a teenager who has experienced heartbreaking loss … and responded by dedicating herself to helping others. Think about that for a second. How inspiring is that?
And the more you interact with the people like Annie and her parents, the more you start to really grasp why an organization like the MACC Fund is so important.
I believe that we are a connected people. And it’s not difficult to see that cancer touches all of us — either in a direct way for most of us at some point during our lives, or maybe one degree or two degrees off. I think we all can agree that helping the young and the sick is an important way to strengthen our society. It’s definitely something we can all get behind.
This week’s game is going to be another fun way for me to do my part.
I love the fact that NFL is allowing players to wear individualized cleats to support our favorite charities. And since the MACC Fund is the organization that I work with most directly, it was a no-doubter in terms of which cause I wanted to represent on my cleats.
The design I ended up going with is based on one of the “MACC Stars.” Each year, the organization selects a child to design a star ornament for the holidays that the MACC Fund sells to help raise funds. The design and color scheme changes from year to year, and so my cleats are based on the colors and patterns of an ornament that was recently created by a young girl.
And, let me tell you: It will be an honor for me to rock those shoes during the pregame warmups today before we play the Texans.