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When it comes to sports, I have the most random affiliations. The teams I back are all over the map. It would be an understatement if I told you I was anything less than a die-hard Texas Longhorn fan, bleeding burnt orange as if I were a University of Texas graduate (I'm not). I root for my hometown New York Giants, follow the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder, and take great pride when the MLB's underdogs, the Baltimore Orioles, win a game or two. I'm a firm believer in the idea that being a sports fan, I mean a dedicated, passionate sports fan, makes life a little easier. The sports world provides everyone with the opportunity to distract themselves from the troubles of everyday life; because when you're fully engrossed in the Longhorn's push for a National Championship, little else matters. You're suddenly a part of something bigger, connected with the players, coaches and thousands of other fans that share the same passion and goals as you.
I think the world of sports is an untapped resource when it comes to making our world a better place. The joy, happiness and escape that sports provide is something everyone should have the chance to experience. For years I have had this nagging dream: before I die, I want to start a non-profit organization that would allow pediatric oncology patients to experience live sporting events. "The Boston Hope Project", as I have come to call it, would take advantage of the great city of Boston: the only city in the country that offers both the leading children's cancer treatment center AND six major league sports teams. I want to start an organization that would pair the two, and give some of the most courageous and deserving kids an opportunity to be distracted, even just for a day, from the burden of their cancer fight and engulf themselves in the excitement of a major league basketball, baseball, hockey, football, soccer or lacrosse game. But the idea for this non-profit came from an experience that opened my eyes to the fact that not everyone has had the same opportunities.
A few summers ago, I worked as an intern for a Major League Baseball team. Per usual, I found myself gravitating toward the work of the community relations department; community outreach and cause related initiatives have always been a passion of mine. Looking to get involved, I took it upon myself to establish a partnership between a hat company and a local hospital's pediatric oncology unit. New Era, the hat company, graciously donated over 100 team ball caps to me which were passed over to team players to be autographed and distributed to the patients at the hospital. With approval from team personnel, I extended an invitation to a patient and his parents to come to the ballpark for a game and serve as a representative of the hospital in a pre-game ceremony where the players could donate the hats. To me, it was such a small sacrifice on the part of the baseball team that would make an immeasurable impact on this child's life. Unfortunately, a few days before the game, I received a call I never would have expected: the ceremony had been cancelled because some members of the baseball organization didn't feel it worthy enough to be included in the pre-game ceremonies. My heart broke; not just for the child (whose dreams I felt I had crushed), not just for myself because the project had fallen through, but mostly because I felt sorry for the individuals who didn't recognize the value and importance of such an experience for this cancer patient. From then on, I knew my calling wasn't to work in sport for "the man", in an environment where everything revolved around the bottom line, but instead to use my passion and knowledge of sport to improve the lives of others.
Professional athletes can learn a lot from children fighting cancer, and vice versa. The attributes and characteristics these young children demonstrate are of great importance in sports. The determination, perseverance and positive attitude needed to get through a battle with cancer are all things that allow a professional athlete to excel in his or her sport. The work "The Boston Hope Project" would do, setting up major league sport experiences for pediatric oncology patients, would of course provide a distraction for the child and their parents, but it would also provide a reality check for professional athletes: the pediatric patients would be a source of inspiration for the athletes as well as a reminder of what a blessing good health really is. Acclaimed cyclist Lance Armstrong wrote in his book It's Not About the Bike, "If children have the ability to ignore all odds and percentages, then maybe we can all learn from them. When you think about it, what other choice is there but to hope? We have two options, medically and emotionally: give up, or fight like hell."
I have been blessed with the opportunity to experience sport and allow it to impact me in a positive way. It has been a dream of mine to, before I die, start a non-profit called "The Boston Hope Project" and put in the legwork that would allow deserving cancer patients the opportunity to become life-long sports fans. When we experience sport, we learn about life: sport emulates our lives. There are winning streaks, losing streaks, long seasons, heartache and triumph. Some teams win consistently, others don't, but at the end of the day the record doesn't really matter: it's a hell of a lot better to believe in something than to believe in nothing at all. That belief can make all the difference in a child's fight against cancer.
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