Wolves' rookie forward Kevin Love's journey to the NBA has not only been fueled by a lot of heart, determination and skill, but also a lot of fortune and luck - and he knows it. Love's fortunes reflect a supportive family, enormous amounts of talent and basketball I.Q, and while all are important, perhaps the one thing that's helped Love the most in fulfilling his life-long goal of playing in the NBA is simple - he has remained healthy.
Love understands just how lucky he is to be where he is today. He cherishes it so much that he wanted to find a way to give back to those who had similar dreams like him, but suffered life-threatening and life-changing illnesses.
Enter the Rookie Relief for St. Jude Program and 14-year old and Andover, Minnesota native Dylan Witschen. Like Kevin, Dylan shared the boyhood dream of one day playing in the pros. He excelled in football, basketball and baseball - and was on the fast track to success. That all changed when during an Aug. 18 Anoka High School football practice, Dylan attempted to make a tackle, but came up hurt.
"He made a tough tackle, got up from it and felt a little weird," explained Debbie Witschen, Dylan's mother. "He had a concussion last October and immediately we knew something was wrong but he couldn't quite identify it until his left side went numb about 20 minutes later."
Dylan went to the trainer hoping that it was just a stinger. Unfortunately, that was not the case, this was something much more serious. "They brought him to the locker room and he had a seizure," said Debbie. "From that point we went to St. Mary's Hospital and then The University of Minnesota hospital, and 24 hours later he was having surgery to remove the tumor."
It turned out that Dylan had suffered a seizure resulting from a cancerous tumor that neither Dylan or his family had any idea existed. "We're so thankful because again, without that hard hit, we wouldn't have discovered the tumor. He had zero symptoms up until that point."
Fast forward two-and-a-half months later and Dylan finds himself undergoing cancer treatment at St. Jude Children's Hospital. "Dylan's surgery happened Aug. 19, 2008 and we were at St. Jude on Sept. 5. We've been at St. Jude for two months now and it's a fantastic and amazing place," said Debbie.
One might think the decision to go to St. Jude was made by his parents. But actually, Dylan was instrumental in the choice to go to St. Jude. "I was probably about 90% of the decision to come to St. Jude," Dylan admitted. "Everything is always positive about St. Jude. When I walk around, even though everyone is going through hard times, they're always smiling. No one is alone."
On Thursday, Oct. 30, Dylan took a break from his cancer treatment and received the thrill of a lifetime when he met with Love and spent two hours watching the Wolves practice. For a lifelong Wolves fan, the opportunity to watch practice was a dream come true. "It was really cool," said Dylan. "We came here got to watch all of their practice, which was really cool because I had never seen a professional team practice before. All of the drills they did were so intense."
Following the practice, Dylan got to sit down with Love and the two of them chatted and did a photo shoot together for the Rookie Relief program. The video footage and photography of the two of them will be used to promote the Rookie Relief campaign to NBA fans throughout the country. "Finally, meeting Kevin Love and getting to hang out with him was awesome, because… it's Kevin Love," admitted Dylan.
While it may have been a dream-come-true for Dylan to meet Kevin, the same could be said for Kevin. For Love, the chance to give back to St. Jude, a cause so near-and-dear to his heart was a no-brainer. "For me, the chance to do something with St. Jude was a homerun," explained Love. "When this opportunity came to me, I was like oh, this is a homerun for me. All the proceeds go to St. Jude; every last dime, every last penny. Every kid is accounted for. Not one kid pays for anything, everything is taken care of for these kids that have childhood cancer. It's terrible to see, but if we can all give back now, we can really put a smile on these kid's faces."
Love is also helping to kick off the inaugural Rookie Relief for St. Jude, a fundraising campaign to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The Rookie Relief for St. Jude auction is a fundraising promotion created out of the partnership between the NBA Summer League and St. Jude. The auction will be the cornerstone of annual fundraising program featuring top NBA rookies.
As ambassador of the campaign, Love joins the NBA’s top rookies and select league veterans in donating autographed game jerseys for an eBay auction starting today (Tuesday, Nov. 11) and ending on Nov. 20. "Becoming an ambassador of Rookie Relief for St. Jude was an easy decision," said Love, who has committed to matching funds raised through the auction up to $12,500. "As rookies, we are blessed to make it to the NBA and play a game we love as a job. It’s our duty to give back. I hope NBA fans will join us in support of Rookie Relief for St. Jude and help kids fighting cancer."
Love and his fellow rookies' contributions are already having a lasting impact on all St. Jude patients. "Oh it's amazing because there are so many kids at St. Jude," said Dylan. "What Kevin is doing is helping every single one of them. All our treatment is paid for through donations. What Kevin and other players are doing is amazing."
As for Dylan himself, if everything goes well with treatment, he should be back out on the gridiron and hardwood soon. "We absolutely think he's going to get back to physical activity soon," said Debbie. "We think he's going to. We keep talking about what next year's football program is going to be like for him. As of right now he's not going to be limited."
With the help of Kevin Love, Rookie Relief and St. Jude, Dylan and youngsters like him are able to capture their lifelong dreams.
For more information about the Rookie Relief effort for St. Jude Children's Research hospital or for more information about the online jersey auction, visit www.stjude.org/rookierelief.