|Behind the Scenes at Radiothon 2012 - Day 2|
But the ball carrier once dubbed the "A-Train" enjoys just as big a spot in the hearts of All Children's Hospital kids, parents and staff. And he's earned it for the way he has always carried the hospital's mission on his burly shoulders - and for gestures as gentle as his squeeze on the shoulder of a choked-up father Friday morning during Day Two of Radiothon 2012.
The latter moment is typical of the uplifting impact Alstott has away from the field - even four years removed from bruising impact he had on it.
It came minutes into his appearance at the fifth annual Radiothon - for the record, he has appeared at each one - when Alstott stopped in to match donations, as always, during his 30-minute spot on air with 103.5-FM morning host Catfish. He sat next to a father, David, whose 3-1/2-year-son Oliver suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease.
The condition leaves bones dangerously susceptible to breakage. In fact, little Oliver, an outgoing brown-haired toddler, has suffered far more in his few years on earth than most people can conceive of - even rugged football players.
He has already endured 18 fractures, with five major surgeries. He's facing another in early January after fracturing his femur bone last week. It happened simply when he moved his leg too quickly to the side in his car seat.
"He's a trooper, though - you can't stop him," David told Catfish. "He's a shining star with just an unbreakable spirit. And he ..." The father's voice started to trail off with emotion. And in that instant, as if instinctively, Alstott reached over and grasped his shoulder briefly: a simple but meaningful way of showing his support in a difficult moment.
"He's the light of my life - I love him," David continued. "And I would do anything for him."
The father and son touched Alstott in return.
"It breaks my heart," he said when Catfish turned to him for a response. "But great spirits. And like his dad said, he is a shining star. A great little man."
Kids like Oliver are the reason that Alstott has remained steadfast in his support of All Children's since the start of his 12-year career with the Bucs, and in the years since through the Mike Alstott Family Foundation.
He continues to make regular visits to the hospital to lift the spirits of patients and parents. He has prepared and served Thanksgiving dinner to parents and others staying at the Ronald McDonald House and hosted an annual stuffed animal building party every Valentine's Day at All Children's. He also brings student-athletes floor to floor to visit sick or injured youngsters each year, just as he'll be doing with players and cheerleaders participating later this month in the Beef "O" Brady Bowl at Tropicana Field.
"We've been very blessed and we have a special place in our heart for this hospital," Alstott said during his interview. "And anything we can do throughout the year with our different charities and donations, it's awesome."
With that, he announced his customary donation-matching offer - any listener who called in a pledge during his radio appearance would trigger a pledge of equal money from the six-time former Pro Bowler.
"Call in and get your donation in and be a part of this program in this hospital," Alstott told listeners. Volunteers in the Children's Auditorium, housing the Radiothon, responded with applause and a booming cheer.
After his appearance, Alstott spoke of his commitment to lending a helping hand anyway he can. His involvement initially began as a player with the Bucs community relations program serving as a conduit. Seeing kids fighting through such monumental adversity put life in perspective - and made him determined to stay involved.
"I came down here in my rookie year for Christmas and I've been coming ever since," he said.
Alstott started his foundation in 2007 and began building on his involvement with All Children's as well as other charitable endeavors, such as hosting the Celebrity Outdoor Weekend to benefit the Children's Cancer Center in Tampa; hosting a Sports Buddies Day for those in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pinellas program; and holding back-to-school shopping events for children of Sallie House and Children's Village.
But All Children's remains a core commitment to Alstott and wife Nicole. "We have four or five programs that we do with the hospital - more so hands-on and visiting than handing over checks," he said. "I want to be part of it - do activities, make cards, things like that. And see the smiles. You walk in those rooms and it just humbles you. That's why I want to be a part of it - to be impactful, but at the same time spread the word."
Alstott and his wife feel an allegiance to All Children's from a personal standpoint, too, from the times the hospital has helped their own kids. But the children dealing with unimaginable difficulties are the ones who have fueled his resolve to stay involved. "You see the serious situations they're facing and we can try to change their spirits a little bit," he said. "The mind's a powerful thing and maybe they can start thinking a little more positive and be inspired to get out of that bed."
Now head coach of the Northside Christian High School Mustangs, Alstott makes a point of telling his players that they can learn from the toughness displayed by kids he meets at All Children's - kids like Oliver.
"That's a tear jerker, because ultimately there's no cure," he said. "That's why I talk to the kids I coach and say, 'You have to realize there so many kids who aren't even able to walk out onto the field or do things you do on a daily basis and take for granted."
David explains that while his son's condition is lifelong, there's a chance he may not have as many factures as he goes through different growth stages - with the help of a drug that promotes bone density. There's also an expensive kit designed to implant steel rods inside his femurs - a rare apparatus (only several exist) he hopes All Children's will be able to obtain.
Meanwhile, David does his best to raise awareness by handing out blue, awareness-raising messages for the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation bearing the message: "Unbreakable Spirit."
In spite of his daily challenges and limitations, Oliver's spirit is strong and his demeanor naturally upbeat. It bubbles through the interview when Catfish asks him if he wants to say anything to the listeners. "Please call ... please call the children," he said into the mic with gusto.
A few minutes later, he and his father posed for pictures with Alstott - a fragile little boy and a former football hero, forever linked in a portrait of power and strength.
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