Mike “Papi” Wein has a powerful message for you.
On March 17, the native of Framingham, Mass., brought his inspiring story to the members of the National Lacrosse League’s Rochester Knighthawks.
Shortly after their morning shootaround, the players and staff sat silently in their locker room at Mohegan Sun Arena and just listened. What they heard was a message of hope and overcoming adversity.
“Let me tell you a little bit about how lucky you are not only to play lacrosse at this level, but how lucky you are to be alive,” said Mike. “Every day is a holiday. Every day is a privilege. Sport is a flat out privilege.”
As the father and lacrosse coach paced from one side of the lockers to the other, Wein emotionally told the team about his son, Brady, who was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) at three months old.
But the story does not end there.
Brady is a young boy who has defied the odds, having been told by doctors that he would not reach his second birthday. Then, at two and half years of age, he successfully underwent operations for cataracts in both eyes and a hip condition.
In 2007, Mike started a team in Arizona to play for Brady. Eight years later, Brady’s Bunch was officially founded by integrating lacrosse and using the slogan we “Play For Someone Else” in solidarity for children fighting cancer.
The mission of the non-profit organization, which bears Brady’s name, recognizes the “opportunity to achieve a more profound impact on youth: to inspire, motivate, and support participants to achieve success both on and off the field while supporting needs of other children like Brady.”
It was in Arizona that Mike first met a professional lacrosse player for the Arizona Sting named Dan Dawson. The two connected but would lose contact with each other until recently when Dan saw Mike’s story on Twitter. Years before having relocated from Arizona back to the Boston area to be closer to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Mike and Dan were reunited in Uncasville, Conn. – of all places – before a professional lacrosse game on March 17. Dawson, who is a father to three small boys, was moved by the perseverance of Mike and his wife, Rachel, and their miracle son, Brady.
“Having the chance to hear Brady’s and Mike’s story was very emotional to say the least,” said Dawson. “We all share a love for lacrosse, and after hearing Brady’s mission, you realize we all share a love for life. It was great for the Knighthawks to finally meet Brady and get to interact with him. He lights up every room he walks in.”
Now nearing his 9th birthday, Brady continues to play lacrosse and travel the country with his dad, educating players of all ages about the mission of Brady’s Bunch Lacrosse. His stop to see the Knighthawks was an amazing experience as the players gravitated to the boy with a wicked backhander and an infectious smile.
“Meeting Brady was an experience I’ll never forget,” said Knighthawks forward Dan Lomas, who played a mean game of bottle flip with Brady after the game. “His excitement for life and contagious competitiveness really opened my eyes. To have gone through what Brady has gone through and to have such a positive outlook on life really puts things into perspective. I couldn’t break his record for consecutive bottle flips and he made sure to let me hear it. Meeting him really brought our team together and gave us someone to play for.”
Dawson, who received a Brady’s Bunch jersey, has been amazed how Mike has used his son’s illness, which is in remission, as a platform to inspire others.
“The Wein family has turned a tough situation into a positive one,” said the Knighthawks alternate captain. “The strength they have shown after all they have been through, and continue to go through, is very inspiring.”
Mike was honest with the Knighthawks about how and why he has been able to speak to hundreds of players and coaches.
“If my son didn’t get sick I wouldn’t be here,” he said. “I will take the sickness that God gave my son and turn it into a positive. I try to teach kids to be good boys and make the right decisions.
“If it wasn’t for Brady, I wouldn’t be standing here right now. I wouldn’t raise money for people across the country and Canada for medical expenses. I wouldn’t be traveling all around and giving money to hospitals. When I go to lacrosse events, I take the leftover money and give it to families.”
Mike challenged the Knighthawks players, who range in age from 22 to 35, to make the most of their time with the Knighthawks and to take advantage of their status as professional athletes to give back.
“Boys, you are at the highest level you can possibly be, thousands of kids want to be you, thousands of kids want to be like you,” he said. “Be good role models and do things for other people.”
Mike then put the frailty of life into perspective using lacrosse terminology.
“My son is supposed to play this many shifts: Zero,” said Mike. “I just want him to play one. Every shift after that is a bonus. “Value your life because one second everything is good and then – bang – you get some crazy news. I got terrible news about Brady with AML. I took a negative and turned it into a positive and here I am speaking in front of a pro lacrosse team.”
Rookie Kyle Jackson, who spent time talking to Brady and his dad, was motivated by Mike’s pregame speech.
“Meeting someone like that and all they have been going through as a family really puts our lives into perspective. Yes, we are professional athletes; yes, we get to do what we want for a living playing lacrosse, but understanding that there are people out there who would literally give their life to be in our shoes…the least we can do is go out there every night in an effort to play for something greater than just ourselves.”
Paul Dawson, who has come to know the Wein family’s philanthropy because of his brother, encouraged people to follow the lead of Mike and Brady’s Bunch.
“Obviously, the one thing you see when you meet him is his passion for his son and his passion for life,” said Paul. “His message is one that everyone should try and live every day: Love everyone and make this world a better place because it’s a blessing to be here.”
On Friday, Rochester Knighthawks fans have an opportunity to help Brady’s Bunch raise much-needed funds for children fighting cancer. The Knighthawks will donate the net proceeds from their 50-50 raffle to benefit the organization.
We can all be motivated by these words that Mike used to conclude his talk with the Knighthawks.
“Life is fun, but it’s not fair. You play the cards you are dealt,” he said. “You can fold or turn it into an ace and a king like I did and have blackjack. Work hard, have fun and be proud of who you are. Be nice to others and give back.”