A Hero for a Friend: The Birth of Team Jack
Do you remember when you were a child how it felt to make that winning hit in a baseball game? Or how about that high you got when you made that final run in football for your team? Perhaps in any moment of our lives this feeling of joy never gets old. However, when experienced at a young age, the moment and feelings going through your mind is beyond description. It feels like you have become a hero in so many people’s eyes at an age where you feel like there’s only so much you can do because of how small you are.
This was the case for Jack Hoffman, a young man who faced a life threatening disease at a young age yet still was able to score a winning run for his favorite football team.
Jack Hoffman is a 7 year-old boy who lives with his family in Atkinson, Nebraska. For as long as he’s lived, he has been a big fan of the Nebraska Cornhuskers and was given the pleasure of seeing his first game at the Cornhusker stadium in 2010 on his fifth birthday.
Sadly, his childhood would take a rough turn a year later. On April 22, 2011, Jack was flown to Children’s Hospital Omaha after having a seizure. An MRI determined that a mass had developed in the left temporal lope in his brain. In hopes of removing this tumor, Jack underwent surgery about a month later. Sadly only a small portion could be removed and Jack began to suffer multiple seizures as many as 11 times in a day.
Doctors had tried more treatments to help reduce the seizures and eventually remove the tumor, but by April 2012 an MRI showed the tumor had still grown. It was decided that Jack needed to undergo chemotherapy over the next 60 weeks.
Despite the dim outlook of Jacks’ treatments, the family was determined to bring some light and hope into his days. Before the decision was made to undergo chemotherapy, Jacks’ parents had contacted the University of Nebraska to see if he could meet Rex Burkhead, one of the rushers of the Cornhuskers. The University gladly extended the invitation and Jack met Rex inn September 2011. Jack’s full story of his treatment as well as his meeting with Rex can found on Jack’s fundraising website:
In a report released by The Dallas Morning News, Rex talked about his times with Jack. On their first meeting, Rex had lunch with Jack and described the boy as “...energetic and positive and happy.” In fact, Jack even challenged Rex to a race on the Cornhuskers football field.
After Jack’s first meeting with Rex, he and his parents left with a 150 red and yellow bracelets that read: “Team Jack - Pray.” The Team Jack fund was born and Jack became an adopted mascot of the Cornhuskers, attending their practices and accompanying them in their appearance at the Capital One Bowl. Rex’s friendship with Jack flourished from that meeting and they even connected with each other using Skype, discussing topics like school and sports. It was a tremendous help for Jack, and he was able to focus on something different then his medical condition.
During the ESPN video interview published on April 12, Rex refers to Jack as the “...younger brother I never had.” In turn, Jack regarded Rex as his “best friend.” In the fall of 2012, Jack led the Cornhuskers through the tunnel walk with his friend, Rex, by his side.
Although the bond between Jack and Rex has grown stronger since their meeting, Rex wasn’t the only Cornhusker player showing his support for Jack. In fact, Rex arranged for Jack to play on the red team for the annual Red and White game that took place on April 6, 2012. The ball was handed to Jack by the Red Team’s quarterback, Taylor Martinez, and from there Jack ran 69 yards to score a touchdown. By the time Jack reached the end zone, Jack was lifted into the air by the Cornhuskers while being greeted by the sounds of thousands of fans in the stands.
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Being a hero to one person gives us feel an incredible emotional high. When you are labeled as a hero, you are held in a regard that makes you stand above everyone else. For that individual, you are a symbol of hope and aspiration.
But can that person who views you as the hero become the hero himself or herself? Most certainly yes, but you have to give the person a reason to believe it. It’s one thing to be an example, but it’s another to show your admirer how to live by that example. Simply accomplishing great feats doesn’t teach your follower what it means to be a positive role model. You have to show your admirer what makes you care so much about what it is that you do so well. You also have to earn your admirer's personal trust and love for you. To put it simply, you have to be a real friend.
Rex took a lot of free time out of his schedule to be there for Jack. He talked with Jack about his life. He played games with him. He transformed Jack into a mascot for the team. He wanted to show Jack that despite his condition he could become great at whatever he decides to do with his life. Rex wanted to show Jack that he could be happy again. In other words, Rex wanted the best for a young fan that he called his brother and friend.
When Jack scored the touchdown, he became a hero. Jack, a child diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, was running with one purpose in mind: to score and win for his team! Jack could have stayed home, crying about what he was going through and not wanting to be part of anything. Instead he was being a care-free 7-year-old running and playing. He was happy and unafraid. His actions brought hope and joys to so many people around him from the football players raising Jack on their shoulders to the thousands of fans screaming his name in praise.
This is how a hero is born. It starts with a basic teacher-student relationship where the teacher passes down knowledge for good and humanitarian purposes. That knowledge becomes the student’s stepping stone for accomplishing his or her dreams. The student then sees the teacher as more than just someone teaching lessons. The teacher becomes a mentor who cares about his or her student's well-being and happiness. Eventually, that student becomes a teacher to others, passing down the knowledge of success and friendship that develops in the new relationships that are formed.
So how is a hero made? Through real love and real life lessons that are fostered by real friendships. Jack was made a hero by Rex and in 69 yards Jack showed us how it was done! So isn’t it time we took what we learned from Jack and pass it on to a friend in need of a hero?