Sometimes we must take a leap of faith believing we can make an impact.
When I was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks on April 27, 2012, it was a turning point in my life. Yet the real game-changer for me came much earlier.
Growing up, I was a troublemaker, the school bully, and I was regularly in the principal’s office. As I grew older, I felt a deep yearning to find a new path. I searched for people who might give me some advice and help create a road map for my life. My parents were there when I needed them, and they became my compass.
They were always giving back. They would take me to church to show me a different way. They would feed those who were hungry and help people facing all types of challenges. They, too, were faced with constant obstacles.
We didn’t have much. There were times we went without hot water. We struggled financially, yet they always had the intention of striving for success and serving others.
My dad used to say to me, “Son, the most important time of your life and how you measure significance is not the day you were born or the day you die but how many people you can help influence and impact.”
The thing that has always given me perspective is giving back and serving others. When I needed help it was there. That is why I have such a strong desire to be an influence, make an impact and create a vision for kids who may not see the potential in themselves.
It was very tough to overcome the loss of my father in 2010. I focused on surrounding myself with those whom I loved and trusted, and who loved and trusted me. I stayed true to the words my dad ingrained in me: “Why not you, Russ?” I realized that what he was saying wasn’t just about getting good grades or being the shortest guy on the field who had the potential to do great things — but it was an attitude of being helpful to one another.
To whom much is given, much will be required (Luke 12:48). That line of wisdom means we are all held responsible for what we have. If we are blessed with talents, wealth, knowledge or time, it is expected that we benefit others. When I go about life — traveling, meeting kids, going to Seattle Children’s — I see kids looking up to me. What they may not realize is that they are the ones who are inspiring me.
When I was drafted, I knew I wanted to find a way to give back in a meaningful way. I did some research on places that were familiar to me. My mom was an ER nurse, and I had spent countless days with my dad when he was in the hospital. When I got to Seattle, that led me to regular weekly visits at Seattle Children’s. I had no idea if this was the right thing to do — but I took that step of faith believing I could make an impact. I walk in, and these brave and courageous kids are smiling from ear-to-ear. They inspire me, and they give me hope!
One of those kids, in particular, is Milton Wright.
In 2013, I’ll never forget walking into his hospital room, seeing him struggling. Here was this 19-year-old, athletic young man hooked up to all of these tubes. He had played football in high school, became a model — an amazing kid. He had beat leukemia at 8, and then again at 14.
I walked into his room, then out, then back in. I told him the story of my dad and how the doctors had given him 18 hours to live, yet he lived for three more years. I asked him, “Milton. Why not you? Why not try T-cell therapy?” Little did he know that he was making a choice to transform lives and revolutionize the treatment of pediatric cancer.
There was something in that moment that spoke to me: We all have the ability to change future generations. I’ve seen miracles happen when belief and love coexist. Milton is now back at Seattle Children’s — not as a patient, but as an employee and a symbol of hope.
I am grateful to be the spokesperson for Strong Against Cancer. Just like during my visits with the kids, individually we can make a difference. Yet I often think about how many more kids we can save if we come together to make a greater difference. I visualize a circle — all of us hand-in-hand. When our community rallies, there is opportunity to influence, change and make a greater impact. It’s the “why” behind the creation of our Why Not You Foundation, established to empower change in the world, one individual and one child at a time. It’s better to do this together.
Last year, more than a million of us opted to donate at Safeway and Albertsons checkstands to take a stand against childhood cancer. This month, I invite you to join me again.
What if we could cure pediatric cancer in this lifetime? We have a plan, and our team is strong. But to cure cancer, we need all of us on it. I can hear dad now: “Russell, why not you?” To which I would reply today: “Dad, why not us?”