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Wake Forest University senior linebacker Aaron Curry will soon experience something about which many young men can only dream. On April 25, 2009, he will hear his name called by National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell as one NFL team selects him as their top draft choice for 2009.
As the winner of the 2008 Butkus Award, Curry is the top college linebacker in the nation and enters the NFL Draft as one of the highest-rated players. As such, he will be one of a few select college players invited to Radio City Music Hall in New York City to walk across the stage and shake Goodell’s hand once his name is called. It is the culmination of a lifelong dream.
But on a day that so many kids dream of happening, where the discussion should be all about him and the work he has put in to reach this pinnacle of success, Curry wants to share the spotlight with another. He wants to give someone else the opportunity to enjoy the experience of a lifetime.
That someone is 12-year-old Bryson, a patient of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
In an unprecedented gesture, Curry invited Bryson to join him in New York City and sit at his table in the green room for what is expected to be the short wait before Curry’s name is called.
“I think that is what life is about,” Curry said. “I've learned that life isn't about me as an individual. It's about everyone around me and what I can do for the community. I've done my work to put myself into this position. Now it is about how I can take advantage of it to do things for the community."
Curry invited Bryson to the draft after touring the St. Jude campus on April 13 with the young man. As part of the tour, Bryson helped give Curry a unique perspective about the hospital, showing him the medicine room where he received chemotherapy treatments, and he introduced Curry to many of the nurses and doctors who cared for him during his treatment. Curry called the tour a powerful and moving experience.
“As I watched Bryson interact with the nurses who treated him, it seemed like a big family," Curry said. “Everyone knows everyone, and they care about each other past being a patient. They care about each other as family and friends.”
Family is a very strong part of Curry's life and witnessing that type of bond between Bryson and his nurses and doctors demonstrated for Curry the difference between St. Jude and other hospitals.
"Family is the first thing on my mind when I wake up in the morning and the last thing on my mind when I fall asleep," Curry said. "Family is what makes me who I am. For the children here to have the support of a huge family just makes things so much easier."
In a way, it is appropriate that Curry is sharing his NFL Draft experience with Bryson. According to Bryson’s mother, it was football that saved her son’s life.
Bryson was 10 years old when the first symptoms appeared during football practice. His chest began hurting and he could not catch his breath. His coach initially thought his tight end/defensive end player was suffering from asthma. But a month later, Bryson’s appetite had vanished as had his energy. “It was football that led to his diagnosis,” his mom said.
He was brought by ambulance to St. Jude where doctors began chemotherapy treatment right away. At St. Jude, doctors diagnosed acute myeloid leukemia as the reason for Bryson’s lethargy, appetite loss and shortness of breath.
Eight months later, in June 2008, the cancer was declared to be in remission and Bryson has been able to resume much of his life before the diagnosis, including returning to football.
As the tour concluded, Curry and Bryson tossed a football outside the Chili’s Care Center. It was there that Curry asked Bryson to come with him to New York.
“I was very surprised,” Bryson said about the invitation. “At first it was hard to believe. I never thought I'd be going to the NFL Draft. And I have never been to New York.”
It will be Curry's first trip to the Big Apple as well. But he is hoping for big things, and not just where he is selected in the draft, but how that position can help him help others.
Giving back to those in need "is more gratifying than any touchdown or sack," Curry said. "Being here helps me realize the role I play in the community—how I can impact the community. Supporting St. Jude is very important because it provides hope. And the kids that come here and their families do not have to worry about any medical bills. As long as St. Jude is up and running, these kids will always have hope."
On their New York adventure on April 23, Bryson and Curry will visit the ESPN Zone in Times Square, the Empire State Building and Niketown. Bryson will also join Curry for NFL Draft events on Friday. Then on Saturday, as the world watches to see who the new crop of NFL rookies will be, Bryson will be seated with Curry at his table in the green room.
"It’s going to be exciting to be in that room," Bryson said.