Fans and supporters were dismayed to learn on Wednesday that the heartbreaking love story of Manti Te'o and his cancer-stricken girlfriend was an elaborate hoax. But one Notre Dame fan says he will continue to raise funds and awareness for the disease, even though it was initially inspired by a battle that never took place.
Dan Tudesco, the devoted Fighting Irish fan who started a fundraiser in honor of Te'o's girlfriend who was revealed to have never existed, said he won’t let the unnerving details of the hoax stand in the way of supporting actual cancer victims.
He told The Huffington Post of his continued efforts after an explosive Deadspin.com article posted Wednesday unveiled that Lennay Kekua, the 22-year-old whom Te’o said he supported through her cancer treatment up until her death, was completely made up.
“If a positive thing can come out of this sad and cautionary tale, and we can raise money [for a good cause], we felt we did something positive," Tudesco told The Huffington Post.
Te’o, the famed Notre Dame player who said he lost his girlfriend just hours after his grandmother passed away in September, inspired scores of fans with the way he forged on after the double tragedies to lead his team to the national championships for the first time since 1988, according to the Associated Press.
Tudesco, a 2006 Notre Dame graduate, became an Internet sensation at that BCS Championship game when his alma mater lost to Alabama and his distraught face was plastered on national television. As GIFs of Tudesco’s head in his hands popped up across the web, he decided to put his fleeting fame to good use by setting up a campaign for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), a nonprofit that aims to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma, while also improving the quality of life of patients and their families.
“The thought was that this was really cool. It’s really funny. Let’s make something positive out of it,” Tudesco told The Huffington Post of how he brainstormed with two fellow alums and his girlfriend after the game. “These moments come and go. One second it’s there, the next second it’s gone. The best thing we could do was to help a lot of people.”
Tudesco, who works at a public relations firm in New York City, said that he and his fundraising crew chose to support LLS because they were inspired by the stories Te’o told of his girlfriend and the way Notre Dame has committed some of its charitable efforts to cancer organizations.
Within a week, the fund dubbed “Let’s Make Sad Irish Fan Happy Again” collected more than $4,000. But after news of the hoax broke Wednesday, Tudesco and his friends were faced with the decision of how to move forward with a cause that was based almost entirely on falsities.
The fundraisers ultimately decided that their mission to support cancer patients still rang true and they issued a statement about their determination to keep raising money.
“We don’t feel tricked," Tuedesco told The Huffington Post. "We as a campaign took a step back, caught our breath and said, ‘was this a hoax to us, too?’ We all resoundingly said, ‘no.'"