Note: As we celebrate our 30th Anniversary year, we wanted you to hear from an early CATCH beneficiary who has become a friend of the charity and its director. Kevin Graham, a graduate of Oakland University with a BA in Journalism, is currently a blogger/writer for Quicken Loans in Detroit. In 2002, Kevin was inducted into the CATCH Hall of Fame.
CATCH-ing the Break of a Lifetime
By Kevin Graham
I’ve reached an age where I’ve started to look back on experiences, chance events and people that had a major impact on my life today. In my young adulthood, I’ve begun to realize that whether it’s my parents, mentors, friends or just random experiences, I wouldn’t be where or who I am if they were taken away.
When I was asked by my friend and CATCH Executive Director Jim Hughes if I would be willing to share a little bit about my experience with CATCH and what it means to me, I realized that CATCH is at least partly responsible for helping me get to where I’m lucky enough to be today. Many years ago, CATCH helped me get a key piece of medical equipment for physical therapy. I stopped using it a long time ago, but what the organization has actually given me is much more valuable than a single piece of equipment.
Walking the Walk
My family and I were introduced to CATCH when they were able to help me get a special walker called a gait trainer for use in physical therapy sessions at the age of 5 or 6. Gait trainers vary in design, but the basic concept is that the user is strapped into the walker, so there’s less work focused on holding yourself up and more emphasis placed on the act of moving your legs.
The biggest thing I remember about these sessions is that as motivation for me, the physical therapist would read a riddle from one of those children’s joke books. You probably know the type: “What’s black-and-white and read all over? A newspaper.” I got to be pretty good at solving those riddles.
I work as a copywriter at one of the bigger local employers in the Detroit area now. I think I can trace some of the cheesy, punny sense of humor that finds its way into some of my writing back to these sessions.
I no longer do any walking. Eventually, it became far more realistic to get just about anywhere I needed to be in a power wheelchair. But those walks did teach me about working to a goal, even if at the time it was just about solving the next riddle or hearing the next joke.
Talking the Talk
After I got the walker, my parents stayed in contact with Jim and CATCH. Eventually, I was asked about possibly doing some work as a child spokesperson for the organization. I’m not sure if they felt I had a good story to tell or if they had just witnessed my ability to talk someone’s head off. Either way, I did it for a few years and I’m happy to have played my small part in raising awareness for a great charity.
I was given the opportunity to attend a handful of events for CATCH during those years. I was fortunate to meet and interact with countless people from the worlds of sports, media and business. I have to say meeting my favorite Red Wing, Sergei Fedorov, was a great thrill.
CATCH has enjoyed the support of people from all walks of life over the years, but perhaps no one better exemplified what CATCH stands for than its founder Sparky Anderson.
Sparky Anderson is best known to most as the manager of the Big Red Machine before coming to Detroit in 1979 and winning the World Series with the Tigers in 1984. Much has been written about that Sparky, but it’s what he did off the diamond with CATCH that has made a lasting impact that lives on today.
Sparky would often visit Children’s and Henry Ford hospitals. He apparently did so without much fuss, preferring to brighten someone’s day without drawing much attention. I owe my first piece of Tigers gear to Sparky during one of his visits to the NICU at Henry Ford.
It was during one of these visits that Sparky got the idea to do something to improve the quality of life of the children he saw fighting various illnesses so courageously. CATCH was born with the mission of helping take care of the things insurance didn’t cover, but that nonetheless make a big difference in the quality of life of the children and their families.
Over the years, CATCH donations have funded items like rent and utility payments to help families who had to take time off work to be with and care for sick children. The organization has also funded laminate flooring for a young girl who was looking to get around the house easier with her walker and paid for anti-epilepsy medication for a family whose insurance lapsed.
In the years leading up to his passing in 2010, Sparky was understandably traveling a little less frequently. As a result, I was very young when I had the opportunity to meet him. I don’t really remember the specifics of our brief conversations, but what I do remember is that smile.
Dan Ewald writes in his excellent book Sparky and Me that Sparky had a particular talent for making you feel like the most important person in the room when he talked to you. Sparky would lean down in front of my chair so he could talk to me face-to-face.
I was young, but baseball was and still is my favorite sport. I watch the Tigers in good times and bad. I knew Sparky Anderson. The fact that such a legend in baseball and in the community would take the time to talk to me is something that made a real impression. Sparky wanted every person, young and old, to feel special.
Why I Donate
Sparky may be gone, but CATCH continues to do great work for ill children in need of assistance.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve supported CATCH through donations for a couple of reasons. The first and easiest answer is that I want to give back to the organization that gave to me. However, it really goes beyond that.
Knock on wood, I haven’t spent any quality time in the hospital in over 10 years now. However, when people – particularly children – have hospital stays for any length of time, it’s hard not only on them, but also on their families.
Curing disability or disease may or may not be a long way off. The amount of time and effort being put into research is probably something many of us can’t fathom. However, the work we do to make someone’s life even slightly easier can have an immediate impact.
That’s why the work CATCH does is so important. Every little bit can help put smiles on the faces of children and their families. That’s why I donate. If you have money to spare, even in small amounts, I would ask you to consider donating. You never know who you might be helping.