Former Bucs OT Jerry Wunsch has joined PewterReport.com as a regular contributor. Wunsch will share exclusive insight and analysis from his nine-year playing career, but his first commentary is aimed at explaining the real life experiences that the Wunsch Family Foundation provides for cancer-stricken kids.
Former Bucs offensive tackle Jerry Wunsch is a regular and exclusive print contributor to PewterReport.com. Wunsch will share expert insight and opinions regarding the Bucs and the NFL based on his observations and previous playing experiences.
The former Wisconsin standout spent his first five seasons (1997-2001) as a pro with the Buccaneers before finishing his nine-year NFL career with the Seattle Seahawks (2002-05). The former second-round pick started 51 of the 113 games he played in during his NFL tenure.
Although he finished his career in Seattle, Wunsch still lives in the Tampa Bay area and is an active member of the community. He owns three different businesses and heads up WunschFamilyFoundation.org.
When I was being drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1997 I would spend my days over in Appleton, Wisconsin helping my cousin's family. My cousin's wife, Missy Dundy, had skin melanoma and she was pregnant. They had to make some decisions, and I would travel back and forth. There was one time when I had been home with her all weekend, but I had to come back to Madison for one workout, which was with Chris Foerster and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Immediately after that workout I drove back to Appleton to help the family.
When I was going through all of this with them I realized the impact cancer had on the family, and how everybody was impacted. At a very young age, I realized that if I were ever given the opportunity to do anything to help people, Lord willing, I would do it.
When Missy was passing I made a commitment to her that I would do anything and everything I possibly could to help others as long as I had the ability and economic means.
Over the last 13 years we've taken different kids with cancer to Wisconsin on a self esteem-building trip to help them realize that they can ski, snowmobile and just be kids. A lot of times when you have a child with cancer we tend to overprotect them. Even as a parent we can overprotect our kids at times.
What we do on this trip is bring trained professionals, including ski patrol people, child specialists, doctors and nurses, so the kids can be in a protected atmosphere, but be kids and talk about all the things they want to talk about, because until you've walked in someone's shoes you can't really understand where they're coming from.
This is an opportunity for these kids to experience life and be able to share it with other kids that are going through the same thing they're going through. We do reunion trips as well.
Our next trip Circle of Friends - Winter Week trip to Wisconsin is coming up, and is Feb. 10-14. These trips aren't possible without the help of others, and this year we have several former Bucs players coming on the trip, like Mike Alstott, Austin King and Bill Schroeder. Some other NFL guys will be there as well, like Bryant Young, who played for the Saints, and a few other guys.
It's a whole bunch of football players going on the trip and having a bunch of fun with kids that offer so much to us. They really put perspective on life and what's important in it. That's what keeps us all well grounded. The abilities they find within themselves ... these are really strong, kind kids, and compassionate to other people. If we could all use a little piece of what these kids are about and apply it to our lives this world would be a much better place.
We make our trips possible by conducting fundraisers every year, including wine tastings and private donations, but the trips are expensive. It costs about $1,500 to $2,000 per child depending on where they're coming from and their disability. This year, we're taking 32 children, and in the past we've taken as many as 40 kids, so it's a big task to raise the funds necessary.
We're never quite sure how much money we're going to be fortunate enough to raise each year, but from the hard work and effort that's put in year round by a lot of people, the one thing we do know is we're going to make a difference in the life of a child, help them do something they wouldn't normally be able to do and understand that cancer is part of who you are, but it doesn't define you as a person.
When you get treated in a hospital it doesn't mean you're completely well mentally. Kids are kids, and sometimes they can be good and sometimes they can be bad. We tell the kids to celebrate the fact that you have a bald head. By the second day of our trip the kids are painting their bald heads. That's what this trip is about; a celebration of life, making friends and finding forgiveness for the kids that have teased these kids for being bald or whatever disability they might have.
It was a challenge to organize our first trip because I didn't quite understand what I was getting myself into, but once we did it I learned a lot from that experience and it got me rejuvenated for the next one because I realized we could make it even better for all the kids.
We've done our annual trips now for going on 13 years, but I definitely haven't done it alone. We've done this with the help of a lot of others who share my vision and are helping us move forward because there are a lot of kids that need help. Whether they've donated their time or money, everyone has made a difference in helping us do what we do for the kids. Every little bit helps and makes a difference in helping these kids do something they'd never be able to do. I can tell you that it costs about $2,000 to put a kid on this trip, but what I can't tell you is the dollar value of what these kids get out of the trip and what the families get out of it.
The reason why I wanted to make this my first commentary on PewterReport.com is because it will hopefully help the readers and Bucs fans get to know me a little better, and understand that there are a lot of professional athletes and Bucs players that do these types of things behind the scenes, but don't get credit for it because you read about players who screw up, which can lead to some stereotypes. I want fans to know that there are a lot of current and former Bucs players and athletes out there doing the right things that would make them proud.
Anyone interested in contributing to our efforts in any way can visit JerryWunschFoundation.com
or call 813-601-3825.
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