When I awoke this morning at 3:34 am, I was not necessarily deep in thought or overwhelmed with emotions, but I was fully conscious and keenly aware of my physical surroundings. I simply laid there restless for hours.
A text message I received at 6:09 am justified my unsettled feelings and it all started to make sense. “Please pray for the peaceful repose of Joe Daniels. He passed at 3:45 am surrounded by his family. I’ll call you later and thanks for your prayers.”
Joe Daniels is a man who will be remembered with great love and admiration by myself and many others. At that moment I also prayed that his son who sent the text, Matt Daniels, along with his family and friends, would find comfort in his memories and his Faith.
Unfortunately, it has been through this journey that Matt and I forged our friendship. Both eldest sons of the best leaders, coaches, educators, mentors, fathers, husbands, brothers and Spiritual men that either of us had ever known. When I first read that Matt’s dad was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma (kidney cancer), the same rare disease that took my father from this world, I had to reach out and offer my support. I was working in Washington, DC, at the time (August 2006) and Matt was playing football for my college rival, The Ohio State.
Our stories were strikingly similar, however, I try to never tell someone that “I understand” what they are going through. This has become somewhat of a policy for me because I believe that relationships are unique and emotions are personal, so to tell someone that you understand is really only to project your feelings onto them. Instead, I prefer to share my experiences from similar situations and let others deduct what they might consider helpful from my stories. So that is what I did.
As our friendship grew, I decided to make the drive from DC to Columbus to meet Matt and his family. This was a pretty typical road trip planned (or more appropriately not planned) by a twenty something. About an hour into the trip, I decided I didn’t really want to do this alone. Not sure if it was the fear of my own emotions resurfacing less than a year after my father’s passing or the basic need for companionship. Either way, I called my sister at college and asked if she wanted to join me. Her roommate drove her about an hour south so I could pick her up in route and still make it there before #1 Ohio State kicked off against #2 Michigan in the final game of the regular season.
It was a hot ticket and consequently, we had to watch this storied rivalry by crashing a tailgate in the stadium parking lot. After the game, we patiently waited with all the kids seeking autographs at the locker room exit. When we finally met Matt, he introduced us to Joe, Kathy (Matt’s mom) and Kaitlin (Matt’s sister). Joe’s appearance, demeanor and courage resembled the man I missed dearly. The difference was that we still had a chance to fight.
This trip refueled my passion for Uplifting Athletes. The impetus the inspired my Penn State teammates and I to take action was the dire prognosis for kidney cancer patients and the lack of financial incentive to change it. My father was given six months to live when he was diagnosed and the only FDA approved treatment gave him a 10% chance of a five year survival. Thanks to his healthily lifestyle, the strength of his general health and his overall resolve, my dad outlived the doctor’s estimate by nearly two-a-half years, but it was not quite long enough to benefit from the first new treatment brought to market in over a decade. The same new treatment that doctors prescribed for Joe.
Less than a year after meeting Coach Daniels, I left my engineering job in DC and moved home with my mom to focus on the mission of Uplifting Athletes. There have been a total of six new treatments brought to market for kidney cancer patients since the founding of Uplifting Athletes and the Kidney Cancer Association credits us with being a major catalyst.
Coach Daniels surpassed the five year milestone. In that time, his son and daughter graduated from college, his son got married and his daughter-in-law brought little Joey into this world. He took the Buckeyes to two national championship games, his quarterback won the Heisman trophy and he coached in the first Rose Bowl of his long and successful career. But one more hug, win, milestone, or year is never enough and that is why we continue to fight.
On Joe’s heavenly birthday, I pray that Kathy, Matt and Kaitlin find comfort in the memories he has given them and that little Joey will get to know his grandfather through the stories told by those he touched. I can’t help but feel as though my wake up call at 3:34 this morning was assurance that our fathers have finally met. In my experience, it is true that heroes are remembered, but legends never die.
Joe and Kathy are co-chairs for the Uplifting Athletes “Tackling Rare Diseases” capital campaign. Coach Daniels graduated from Slippery Rock in 1964 and spent 39 years on field as a coach. His coaching career has been distinguished, with players such as Ken O’Brien, Andre Reed, Ozzie Newsome and Dan Marino under his tutelage. Daniels was elected to the Bethel Park Hall of Fame in 2002 and to the Slippery Rock Hall of Fame in 2004. He was inducted into the Western Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in May, 2009