Sept. 29, 2011
Sometimes it is the little things in life that we all take advantage of – mundane things like walking one foot in front of the other, standing in line or for some of the Commodore basketball players, running up and down the Memorial Gym floor and playing the game they love.
Perspective can sometimes be lost in the midst of practices, workouts, class, and media obligations for all involved in a program, from coaches to players to support staff.
Luckily for Vanderbilt basketball players, that perspective is only a short walk from where they perform in front of thousands at Memorial Gym.
Commodores Steve Tchiengang, Kyle Fuller, Rod Odom and Kedren Johnson recently spent an afternoon visiting with patients at the Vanderbilt Stallworth Rehabilitation Hospital, an 80-bed, freestanding hospital specially designed for rehabilitative medicine. The hospital offers functional outcome focused inpatient programs, and includes the latest technology, treatment gyms, patient dining, recreation areas, a regulation size gymnasium, and a therapeutic courtyard.
The four players helped patients shoot basketballs, hula-hoop and other rehabilitation activities at the facility.
Assistant director of operations and former Vanderbilt player Dan Cage helped arrange the trip for the athletes. Cage believes activities such as these help strengthen the bond between the team and the community, solidify relationships within the team, and provide a different outlook to players.
“It helps give us a better perspective on how lucky we are,” Cage said. “Some of these people are really going through some serious battles, and we take for granted some of the blessings that we have."
Tchiengang, one of the team’s ringleaders when it comes to community service, knows he got more out of the experience than he put in.
“I feel like that visit was a way for me to feel appreciative about the things that we have and to stop worrying about the things that we don’t have,” Tchiengang said. “Knowing that you are blessed and showing more appreciation rather than wanting more than what you have and complaining about little issues is what these trips are all about. There are some people out there that are missing limbs and those that are disabled, and doing something like this is a real humbling experience.
“I love doing these type of things. I’d like to think that I can touch people’s lives, and it encourages me to want to do more so I can have that impact on people.”
Touching lives is something Kyle Fuller does well on a day-to-day basis. His infectious personality and liveliness that he brings to his daily interaction with his teammates was seen at Stallworth. And although he was there to lift the spirits of the patients and help them overcome their trials, Fuller may have been the one who had his spirits lifted the most.
“Once you look at those kids, you see how blessed you are and how so many things are given to you,” Fuller remarked. “It’s hurtful to see a kid in that situation, but if I can make a kid smile, I’ll do whatever I can.”
Before leaving Stallworth, Fuller and the Commodores were sure to make one more patient smile. After posing for a photo with members of the Stallworth staff, the players spotted a young boy with a Magic Johnson jersey. The players signed the jersey and Fuller took off his rosary and gave it to him (see photo to the right).
“I’ve had that rosary for two years,” Fuller said. “My mom gave me that rosary, and it meant a lot to her and a lot to me. Just looking at that young man after I signed his jersey, to see him smile. That made me so happy.
“Then I thought, ‘maybe he’d want my rosary?’” So, I asked him, and he told me that he’d like to wear my rosary. Just to see the smile on his face, it made my whole week. Maybe my whole month.”
Cage organizes trips to Stallworth and Vanderbilt’s Children’s Hospital throughout the year. And each time the team leaves a visit, he sees how beneficial it is to the players, but most importantly to the patients.
“Those patients are a true inspiration to us and I think we benefit more from the visit than they do, and it’s a reason we like to do these type of things throughout the year,” Cage said. “It gives us an appreciation of the things we’re doing and puts any problems we might have in perspective.”
The visits are also greatly appreciated by staff members at Stallworth as well as the Children’s Hospital.
"Many of our patients are overcoming serious illnesses and accidents and work every day to overcome their challenges,” said Leslie Richerson, director of marketing operations at Stallworth. “To have the Vanderbilt athletes take time out of their busy schedules to come over and socialize, play games and provide emotional support is the best kind of medicine around.
“They not only had a positive influence on the patients with whom they interacted, they positively influenced our entire staff with their integrity, kindness, and willingness to help.”