Adrian Peterson was raised to believe he could overcome any obstacle in life. From a young age, Peterson experienced difficulties with his speech. He worked hard and attended speech therapy for many years to overcome a severe stuttering problem. Peterson not only overcame his stuttering, but now he travels the US speaking with young people about overcoming obstacles and the benefits of hard work. Peterson is better known for his football career that began at Georgia Southern University in 1998. During his time at GSU, Peterson received numerous school and NCAA class 1-AA records, won two national championships, and received the Walter Payton Award for Most Outstanding Player as a running back. After college, Peterson went on to play in the NFL. He was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the 6th round. He spent seven successful years with the Bears. During his football years, Peterson didn’t know that life’s events would present him with an even greater obstacle… pediatric cancer.
On May 16, 2015, Peterson tried to fight back the tears as he shared his story with an audience of football coaches and fans at the first annual Coaches for Curing Cancer Football Coaches’ Clinic and Dinner Gala benefiting CURE in Savannah, Georgia. In June 2014, Peterson and his wife, Angela, were faced with devastating news. Their first born son, Adrian Junior (AJ), was diagnosed with a rare inoperable brain tumor known as Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG). “Everyone thought I had accomplished a lot,” said Adrian. “They thought I was strong. They thought I was a hero. But during his battle with cancer, AJ proved that he was strong. He was the real hero. He never complained. Even once the cancer had progressed and AJ couldn’t see or hear, he never cried or complained. My son is my hero.”
AJ lost his battle with cancer in February of 2015. The Petersons find peace in their faith in God. They know that AJ is 100% healed in heaven.
When Jenkins High School Athletic Director and Coaches for Curing Cancer President, Tim Adams, and CURE’s Patient and Family Services Manager, Mandy Garola, were looking for a keynote speaker for the Dinner Gala, Peterson was an obvious choice. “We couldn’t think of anyone better to appeal to a football loving audience, and speak on the need for assisting pediatric cancer families and funding research,” commented Garola. “We knew that Adrian would be the perfect speaker, but we weren’t sure he’d be ready because his loss was so fresh. We wanted to approach him, but let him know that there was no pressure. We presented him with the idea, asked him to think it over, and let us know later. We were thrilled when Peterson agreed to speak on behalf of CURE and Coaches for Curing Cancer a few days later.” At the Dinner Gala, Peterson shared with the audience that he accepted the invitation because he did not want other families to experience a loss like his.
Coaches from all over the state of Georgia and beyond came together Friday and Saturday at The Embassy Suites Hotel in downtown Savannah. They shared ideas and attended sessions led by some of the leading coaches in the Southeast including: Willie Fritz, Head Coach at Georgia Southern, Mike Sewak, Offensive Line Coach at Georgia Tech, and Mitch Ware, Assistant Coach at Army-West Point.
Saturday night’s dinner gala was not just for coaches. Guests enjoyed a great selection of sports memorabilia in a silent auction, sports trivia with WJCL Sports Director, Frank Sulkowski, testimonies from several local pediatric cancer patients, and keynote speaker, Adrian Peterson.
This inaugural event was a success. “I’ve wanted to do something for pediatric cancer for a long time,” said Coaches for Curing Cancer’s President, Tim Adams. “I lost my nephew to cancer five years ago, and I’ve seen how devastating it is to the family. I don’t know a lot about fundraising, but I do know about football. I have a lot of football contacts, and I’m so appreciative of them coming together to support CURE. I’m especially thankful to Adrian for sharing his story.” The weekend raised $10,000. Coach Adams hopes to make it an annual event.