Irish tackle cancer with fundraiser

TYLER JAMES
South Bend Tribune

Sam Grewe provided inspiration in 2012 for many Notre Dame football players.

Now with the help of the Uplifting Athletes foundation, the Irish hopes to continue giving back to the 15-year-old Middleburry boy that’s battled osteosarcoma.

Grewe, diagnosed with the rare malignant bone cancer at the age of 13, was “adopted” by the Irish in the spring of 2012. The players have spent countless hours getting to know him since.

Around the same time last year walk-on football player Nick Lezynski put the wheels in motion to start a chapter of the Uplifting Athletes, a national nonprofit organization that connects college football programs with rare diseases to help fight, at Notre Dame.

Lezynski and his teammates chose osteosarcoma. With the chapter now led by junior linebacker Joe Schmidt, the organization will host its first fundraising event July 14. That Sunday, the Irish football team will bowl with charity donors at Strikes & Spares Entertainment Center in Mishawaka.

One hundred dollars will reserve a spot on a lane that will match up to four donors with a rotation of two Notre Dame football players at a time joining the group for the hour-long session. Two separate sessions are scheduled for 10 a.m. and 11:15 a.m.

Schmidt, with the help of fellow linebacker Danny Spond and others, was finally able to set up an event that would allow most of the team to attend. Asking the team to participate was easy.

“For us, community service in general is really important. But when you put a personal face on it with Sam, it becomes even more so,” Schmidt said. “It’s something that we really are passionate about as a team.”

Grewe’s story with Notre Dame gained publicity throughout the season and hit a peak when ESPN shared his story as part of its pregame coverage for the BCS national championship in January. That’s when the nation became familiar with the boy the Irish football players, or the

“Grewe Crew,” had already grown a bond with. “It’s easy for us to relate to Sam because a lot of us were just like him when we were 13 years old. He was an absolutely fantastic athlete before,” Schmidt said. “When we adopted him we saw a high-light tape of Sam absolutely dominating on the football field. A lot of us, I could tell, really related to it. That was us at 13. We were the biggest kid, the fastest kid, the best kid on the team. It’s something that was important to us because we understand where he’s coming from.

“Over time we became close to Sam and a lot of guys really got to know him. He’s a funny kid. He’s great. It’s important for us to help him and do this in honor of him.”

In February, Grewe’s first scans after chemotherapy showed that he was cancer-free less than a year after undergoing rotationplasty, a complicated partial amputation that removed most of his tumorous right leg.

As he continues to fight to stay healthy, the Irish team remains linked with the local teenager. He’s given players like Schmidt, who earned a football scholarship this offseason after two seasons with the team as a walk-on, another thing to fight for.

“We’ve really come to understand how terrible the disease can be, the impact it has on the victims’ lives, and we’ve really come to understand how serious of a cause it is,” Schmidt said. “We understand how it affects people. We all rallied around that idea.”

Those interested in registering or donating for the event can do so online at:  http://tinyurl.com/BowlWithNDFB

More on Grewe’s story can be found on the “Sam Grewe Updates” Facebook page.

Junior Joe Schmidt leads Notre Dame's Uplifting Athletes Organization