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With one month down, I am excited to share more about me and my determination for a cancer free future as BellRinger’s new Executive Director.

6 min read

Assuming the role of BellRinger’s Executive Director wasn’t just a career move for me; it was a calling. I’ve always believed that there’s a greater plan at work, and this opportunity to impact the fight against cancer, intertwined with my late mother’s legacy, solidified that belief.

In such a short time over the last month, I have been able to see how special this community really is. From learning the intricacies of the work done by our Georgetown Lombardi researchers, meeting many new and returning Riders, and so much more, it’s become abundantly clear how the passionate individuals behind our mission will continue to make a difference in the lives of those affected by cancer.

Growing up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, I always had a fierce determination to succeed. After years of hard work, I attended the University of Virginia, where I entered college as a lean 164-pound athlete brimming with confidence and self-belief. Despite my small stature, I quickly established myself on the football field, becoming a four-year starter and earning recognition as an honorable mention All-American and all-conference player.

I graduated from UVA in 1990 with a degree in Rhetoric and Communications Studies, and was drafted into the NFL by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1991. After a five-year stint in the NFL, I found myself in the nonprofit sector with a job as the Executive Director of the American Heart Association. Throughout my time in this role, I was able to learn more about this cause and make personal connections with numerous stroke survivors. During these years, we created Train to End Stroke, a run and fundraising event to help increase awareness for stroke research in conjunction with the American Stroke Association.

Through this initiative, I found fulfillment in leveraging my platform to raise funds for stroke research and education, marking the beginning of my journey in the nonprofit world. I realized the impact that I could have with every dollar that was raised. I saw the passion of that community, and I knew I wanted to do this work for the rest of my life.

Transitioning from the NFL to the nonprofit sector was a significant shift for me, but it was one that changed everything. Football had consumed me for so long, but after being inspired by my career shift, I knew I wanted to make a difference beyond the field. I heavily invested in mentoring, drawing from my experiences coaching high school football in Florida. Many of these kids came from tough backgrounds, inner-city, single-parent households, you name it. I wanted to become a role model—picking them up, taking them places, demanding excellence in academics.

After a few years of mentoring student athletes, I wrote a book entitled I Am Underdog, A Journey of Adversity and Blessings. From there, my mantra and personal brand of “I AM UNDERDOG” was born. It was my opportunity to engage young athletes and others who have been made to feel like they’re fighting a fight they can’t win. The message is about defying doubt, overcoming odds, and encouraging others to embrace resilience and self-belief. This personal brand intersects with everything I do, reminding us all of our capacity to overcome. It’s about faith, family, and friendship—values that guide me daily.

All of the opportunities I’ve had in this life have shaped me into the man I am today. But the reason I am so passionate about joining the BellRinger team is all due to my beautiful mother’s legacy and love.

My mother was diagnosed with cancer during my sophomore year of college. I will never forget the day I received the call from her — the fear, the devastation, the anger. My mom was my everything. At 19 years old, all I knew at the time was when people get cancer, they don’t beat it. My grades slipped, I wasn’t playing my best on the field, and I kept it private from almost everyone in my life. Thankfully after a few months of treatment, she entered remission. Everything felt lighter because my mom was going to be okay. My mom sat in the front row at my graduation two years later, and her smile reached ear to ear. I’ll never forget that moment as long as I live.

It didn’t take more than a year for her cancer to come back, this time with vengeance. When I received the call that I was drafted to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I ran up the stairs and promised her I would take care of her. That it would all work out and things would be okay.

She passed away a few months later.

Nothing prepares you for this. I was lost and I was mad at God for taking the woman who gave me everything. She never missed one of my games, and it hurt to know that she would now watch me from above instead of the sidelines. It took months to come to terms with the fact that this was my new reality and to reconnect with myself, God, and the dreams my mother had for me. Her absence, especially when my daughters came into the world, became my greatest motivation. Knowing that advancements in research could have saved her fuels my dedication to BellRinger’s mission. I’ve witnessed firsthand the impact of research in saving lives, not just in my family but in countless others. The mother of my children fought and beat cancer because of the advanced research happening every single day. It’s working, and as a community, it’s our job to make sure researchers are given the tools they need to ensure no other families are impacted the way mine was.

My vision for BellRinger is rooted in action. We’re not just fighting a disease; we’re honoring the legacies of those we’ve lost and championing the survivors who embody resilience in the face of adversity. If we channel our anger, our grief, our optimism, and our hope for a world where cancer doesn’t exist, we will be unstoppable.

It is an honor to join the BellRinger community. To learn more about each and every Rider and volunteer who commit to ending cancer once and for all. Our work is just getting started, and I could not be more hopeful for what the future has in store. I will be riding 50 miles in BellRinger this October, and I encourage you all to join me — I hear it’s going to be one great Ride. Dr. Lou Weiner and I are already getting our miles in!

May 9, 2024

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